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The Nutrition Puzzle
February 24, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

The nutrition puzzle Why do so many people in poor countries eat so badly—and what can be done about it?
posted by storybored (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some facts on this subject:

I have heard (I'm not sure it's true) that iron is what makes children in very poor Andean families red headed (there are quite a few of them). Sadly, parents and other children like to think that these babies are "white" so, it's a good thing. In reality they are malnourished.

In the poorest parts of my city (Lima), weak tea without sugar is considered an acceptable breakfast for school children. This means that after two hours of class, half of the classroom is sound asleep. This does not help their academic development.

In some parts of the mountains, children will beg tourists for chapstick, and you can see their faces and lips torn in ugly wounds by the cold. It's bad enough that they are begging, but the fact that they are begging for "cream or chapstick" is pretty horrible. Malnutrition is related to the lack of elasticity in their skin.

Children in the jungle at least have fruit and vegetables much more at hand than empty calories.
posted by Tarumba at 3:06 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought it had something to do with them being poor, and unable to grow/buy proper amounts and types of food.
posted by Malice at 3:28 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think I linked to this in a comment a month or two ago, but I think délestage has to be the saddest word of the year for me. To need a word to describe not feeding your kids on some days of the week -- my heart breaks just thinking about it.

I lived for a while in a place not as poor as the Congo, but still poor enough that people needed to routinely limit who in the family got fed. Those are shitty choices to have to make. My grandparents, who were born in the US in the 1920s, told me similar stories about their childhoods, though; those issues persisted in the US until fairly recently, solved partly by cheap food and partly by requiring enrichment of staple foods like cereal, bread, and milk.

I have heard (I'm not sure it's true) that iron is what makes children in very poor Andean families red headed

I think it's often a symptom of protein and calorie deficiencies, sometimes part of kwashiorkor. But more meat, fish, and eggs will give you iron along with the protein; it's a distinction that would only matter if you were trying to solve the problem with supplements rather than with whole foods.
posted by Forktine at 3:43 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This comment really struck me:

....better nutrition can be a stunningly good investment. Fixing micro-nutrient deficiencies is cheap. Vitamin supplements cost next to nothing and bring lifelong benefits. Every dollar spent promoting breastfeeding in hospitals yields returns of between $5-67. And every dollar spent giving pregnant women extra iron generates between $6-14. Nothing else in development policy has such high returns on investment.
posted by storybored at 4:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, I just got home from a talk by Vandana Shiva. I don't think she'd be terribly supportive of the particular solutions to hunger and malnutrition proposed by this article.
posted by eviemath at 6:17 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The link text reminded me of Karl Pilkington's take on the matter (warning: profanity).
posted by BiggerJ at 7:06 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Industrially processed food is affordable. Those who are eating badly today used to just starve forty years ago. A country like Brazil, which is cited as an exemple in the article, has skyrocketing obesity rates. Think about it - not long ago Brazil had widespread hunger in its poorest regions, now there's a bona fide obesity epidemic. Saying it's one or the other is proposing a false dilemma, but I think everyone would agree that obesity is a better problem to have than starvation.
posted by falameufilho at 7:17 PM on February 24, 2012


There's a lot more to nutrition than calories, though, as the original link points out. One can be obese but also malnourished (getting too many empty calories, not getting enough of essential nutrients). One of the problems with industrialized food production mechanisms is that the nutritional value of food has been decreasing, or so I've read. As I understand it, many cases of obesity in the US are not accompanied by malnutrition, however obesity in poorer US neighborhoods is accompanied by malnutrition not infrequently. I'll have to look up some stats and links to support all that....
posted by eviemath at 7:46 PM on February 24, 2012


It's "interesting" to me, assuming that governments consciously chose the paths that they did; re: Forktine's délestage link where the Congolese government just abandoned investment into agriculture and the USA's aggressive push starting from the '70s (?) into providing cheap calories.

In one case, the populace just doesn't have the calories to protest/otherwise effect change. In the other, the populace can satiate themselves on cheap and plentiful (and tasty?) calories and either don't care to- or can't- due to health problems associated with overeating those cheap and tasty but otherwise generally unhealthful calories.

From the délestage article, it's telling that they state the monthly income of a school teacher. Just a little bit less than a cop, about the same here in Canada. Police/firemen/nurses/teachers are ok dual-income wages and reasonably middle-middle (lower-middle/upper-lower in Vancouver, depending on neighbourhood - about $55k or so, or so I've been told) wages.

All the while, healthful whole foods (ie., vegetable produce and unprocessed meat) is overpriced, generally of very low quality, and otherwise of difficult availability in the lowest socio-economic neighbourhoods.

Off topic, but relevant to countries like Greece and Portugal, where a friend was decrying massive inflation due to their government's debt obligations and external pressure to enact austerity measures... they've got to be hurting more than my below rant, and similar nutrition problems may very well arise in these (to be formerly?) 1st world (ish?) nations.

Even here in Canada, I feel that the inflation for food has really outpaced total inflation. It's hard for me to quantify because I've always (well, since I was 23 or so, so for the last decade) economized; buying stuff on sale, looking for bargains, taking the extra time to go to lower priced-higher quality (for my neighbourhood in Vancouver - mom&pop produce stores, mix and matching them, and getting "ends" and "collars" from meat/fish places and lately, being forced to go for $1 or $2 [now $3 and $5] bags of produce that's unsellable individually and just discard the rotten bits) but when I started my MSc at UBC (say, 2003), a full lunch at the Village (including a can of soft drink) was $5, and you might get some change back. Now, at the tail end of a separate PhD the same lunch is $8 and change, and no soft drink included. The pretty decent sushi place just jacked up all their combo prices by $1+ and lunch there is now $10+.

CIHR (Canadian Institute for Health Research) minimum funding, which most PIs base their graduate student salaries/stipends hasn't increased by nearly that percentage, if at all. It's 18k and change per year - and students now have to pay tuition starting from year 1; tuition (about $5k a year) used to be waived for the first 4 years, although some PIs cover student tuitions out of compassion, from their own pockets and sometimes from grants if its written in. Rental housing here goes up 3.4% (or was it 4.3%?) every year. Gas just hit $1.41 a litre today.
posted by porpoise at 8:13 PM on February 24, 2012


Every dollar spent promoting breastfeeding in hospitals yields returns of between $5-67.

And yet the asshole company Nestle and other baby formula manufacturers go into to third world countries and spend millions convincing mothers that formula (mixed with unsafe water) is best for their children.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:04 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


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