Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017

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Undernutrition and children's health

The worldwide economic crisis and rising food prices have led to more food insecurity, which can cause more disease and sickness worldwide. But the problem isn’t just limited to places where food is scarce; in developed countries as well, problems with children’s nutrition exist.

Who is affected

Food shortages are most harmful to women and children. The increase in food prices since 20071 and an economic slowdown are thought to be responsible for an increase in the number of children who are undernourished, resulting in nutritional deficiencies that can cause stunting of growth, as well as significant decreases in IQ that cannot be recovered later in life.2 New studies suggest that inappropriate nutrition in childhood is the cause of the development of non-communicable diseases in adulthood.

Just like rationing?

In Britain it has been reported that cases of rickets and scurvy in children are at levels that have not been seen since World War II.3 This increase is thought to be the result of higher food prices and reliance on a “junk food” diet. Since the economic crisis started in 2007 the consumption of vegetables in Britain has decreased by four kilograms per person per year.

Canada and the US

Not all problems can be blamed on economic malaise, however. The most recent data published by Health Canada, from 2004, well before the recession, suggested that Canadian children’s diets are low in Vitamin D, calcium, fibre and potassium, and that toddlers are not consuming enough dietary fat, and are instead consuming too many calories and too much sodium.4 The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) found a similar situation in the US,5 where there are some case reports of diagnosed nutritional deficiency diseases, like rickets and scurvy in children who have some food allergies, or who have food avoidance behavior.6,7

The solution

Healthy foods are often perceived as being more expensive. Instead of evaluating the cost per gram, we could evaluate the cost per nutrition density of a food.8 Another simple solution is to offer discounts on the price of more nutrient-dense foods. In a supermarket trial, groups who were able to purchase vegetables and fruits that had been discounted up to 50 percent increased consumption by about 20 percent, when compared to people who only received education about why they should consume vegetables and fruits.9

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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