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Poor nutrition robs economy Sh147 billion

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

Malnutrition is a major threat to Kenya’s economic growth projections as millions of Kenyans grapple with food poverty and suffer the consequences of unhealthy diets.

When translated into monetary value, the economy loses Sh147 billion annually, which is more than what was allocated for road construction (Sh134.9 billion) in the 2017/18 budget, due to lower productivity occasioned by malnutrition with fears that the figure could go up to Sh3.2 trillion in the next 20 years according to the latest National Nutrition Symposium study of 2016.

And according to the Economic Survey 2018 released last week, 14.5 million Kenyans are food poor as these individuals were unable to consume the minimum daily calorific requirement of 2,250 kilocalories (Kcal) during the 2015/16 financial year.

Rural areas reported the highest food poverty incidence, with 35.8 per cent of the population below the food poverty line or 2,250 Kcal compared to 24.4 per cent in urban areas. The results further show that 23.8 per cent of households were food poor.

According to the survey, the most affected were the 3.09 million who lived in conditions of abject poverty and could not afford the minimum rkilo calories.

This is because food prices in the country are too high for the poor to afford. Food budget takes up an average of 54.3 per cent of all adult monthly expenditure.

An adult in Nairobi spending on food stands at an average of Sh6,153 (43 per cent) of the individual total expenditure. This translates to Sh205.1 on food per day making it too costly for the poor, who live on under a dollar a day (Sh100) to afford.

Meru and Nyeri counties registered the least food poverty incidence at 15.5 per cent each while Turkana county recorded the highest incidence of 66.1 per cent.

The World Health Organisation says that the immediate causes of malnutrition are inadequate food intake, in terms of quantity or quality, and diseases. According to an investment analyst and economist, John Kirimi, malnutrition often means additional health costs to a country.

“Treating illnesses associated with malnutrition is expensive and comes at a direct cost to the Kenyan economy,” says Kirimi.Treatment of weight conditions, including wasting and micronutrient deficiencies is estimated to cost between Sh100 trillion and Sh200 trillion globally.

Malnourished individuals are unable to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because they seldom consume. “Malnourished people are not consuming food and other goods produced in the country. This means they are also not contributing to the GDP,” said Kirimi.

Undernutrition leads to a slowdown in economic growth and perpetuates poverty. This is because mortality and morbidity associated with malnutrition also represents direct loss in human capital and productivity for the economy.

Malnutrition is, however, more detrimental to a child, affecting their ability to contribute to the economy in the future. In children, malnutrition starts in womb when the mother lacks access to important nutrients during pregnancy.

“Intrauterine growth retardation, which is caused by inadequate nutrition during pregnancy, leads to spinal cord defects and mental retardation in babies,” says Dr Esther Dindi, a medical physician and fitness expert. “When a mother gives birth to a child with such issues, it means they spend most of their time in and out of hospital.

They are therefore not economically productive. The cost of treating that child also means that the family income diminishes,” adds Dindi. According to Global Panel on Agriculture and Systems for Nutrition, 26 per cent of Kenya’s children under five years old are stunted.

It is estimated that a one per cent loss in adult height as a result of childhood stunting equals to a 1.4 per cent loss in productivity. Stunted brain development is directly linked to education gaps leading to a lower skilled workforce that delays a country’s economic development.

“Malnourished children are at a risk of mental and physical retardation which means their education and economic outcomes are threatened,” say Kirimi. Dindi also points to the effects of over-nutrition on the economy. Over-nutrition is a form of malnutrition in which the intake of nutrients is oversupplied.

“Obesity, which is caused by over-nutrition, is linked to high occurrences of non-communicable diseases which include certain cancers, Type Two diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

These are very expensive diseases to treat or control, therefore, inflating the country’s health spend,” says Dindi adding that these illnesses often mean a lot of time is spent in hospital instead of in doing productive work.

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