The Problem of Malnutrition in Guatemala

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Malnutrition is not getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients, which is caused by a lack of eating the proper foods and not eating enough. Malnutrition is not only due to lack of access to necessary foods, but also due to a lack of healthcare (Malnutrition, 2017) Worldwide, 85 million people suffer from being malnourished. Malnutrition causes millions of deaths around the world daily. Children and pregnant women are especially prone to malnutrition with about 3.1 million children dying from hunger each year. Malnutrition affects physical and mental growth in children, often resulting in children never reaching their optimal size in adulthood. Further, malnutrition can also affect the brain and cause lower IQs.

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Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of malnutrition in the world. Guatemala is a country in Central America it is bordered by Mexico, El Salvador, and the Caribbean. It is made up of 17.4 million people making it the most populated country in Central America. The capital of Guatemala is Guatemala City and it is also the biggest city in the country (Population Division, 2017). The government is a representative democracy. This type of democracy is when officials are elected and the people vote them in. Guatemala has the worst healthcare in all of Latin America with some of the highest infant mortality rates and lowest life expectancy rates. Education in Guatemala is free, but the cost of uniforms, book, supplies, and transportation make it difficult for children in the poorer communities to get an education (Blakeley, 2009) Agriculture is the foundation of Guatemala's economy, agriculture provides a majority of the jobs to the people of Guatemala. Cash crops include coffee, sugar, bananas, and beef. These exports bring in 11 billion dollars to Guatemala. The foods of Guatemala are based on Mayan cuisine, the foods mostly consist of, maize, black beans, and chilies (Blakeley, 2009). Typical dishes are stews, tamales, plantains, guacamole, and tostadas, Again, many poorer families can not afford the ingredients for many of these dishes and eat only rice, beans, and tortillas. Access to running water and markets in these poorer communities, that consist of the indigenous people is minimal. Making life and health harder on these people (Country Profile- Guatemala, 2006).

A typical family in Guatemala consist of 5.9 people, many people have agricultural jobs and have a minimum salary of three dollars. Many families have a hard time paying for high-quality foods. and public education is not free. The poor families have little access to healthcare, and not much access to toilet electricity phones and local markets. Guatemalans have a solid social legacy that mixes indigenous Mayan, European, and Caribbean impacts (The People and Culture of Guatemala, n.d.). Today, ethnic decent variety is obvious in the different dialects and ways of life that exist all through the nation. The populace is additionally on the ascent Guatemala is one of the quickest developing nations in all of Latin America. The yearly development rate is about 2 percent. Guatemala is the 4th most malnourished country in the world. The less fortunate families who can not afford proper healthcare and nutrition face this as a serious issue (Country profile- Guatemala, 2006).

Malnutrition in Guatemala is a huge problem. More than half of Guatemala's children are malnourished ( “Malnutrition in Guatemala, A national shame”, 2009). The country as a whole has about 49 percent of children malnourished, but for the indigenous people, that number rises to 70 percent (“Malnutrition Plagues Guatemala’s Children”, 2011). Most affected by malnutrition are the people of Mayan descent, which is the indigenous people. The reason for this is the problem of overpriced foods. It is difficult for many families to afford basic foods such as beans. Many families raise chickens which lay eggs, instead of feeding them to their families they have to sell them in order to afford more food (“Malnutrition in Guatemala, A national shame”, 2009).

Children in Guatemala who suffer from malnutrition are severely underweight for their age. An example is a girl named Kayla who, in 2011, was 5 and weighed about 18 pounds. Children also have problems moving and breathing, their brains do not develop properly, their physical growth is stunted and they can not do things for themselves because they are so weak (“Malnutrition Plagues Guatemala’s Children”, 2011). Since the children do not obtain the nutrients they need they are more prone to infections because their bodies can not fight off the dangerous bacteria and viruses such as Campylobacter, and Shigella, which cause diarrhea. Children becoming sick from these viruses are the main causes of death in children (“Malnutrition Plagues Guatemala’s Children”, 2011). A third of pregnant women are malnourished. Since these women are malnourished it causes maternal and neonatal deaths This is also the cause of low birth weight causing infants to be five times more likely to die within the first month of life. In women, zinc deficiency can cause infertility, poor fetal growth, prolonged labor, and embryonic or fetal death ( Micronutrient Malnutrition among Women and Young Children in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, 2015 ).

Malnutrition problems in Guatemala can be addressed. Many organizations are giving Guatemala different ways. The United States International Emergency Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helps Guatemala with a food supplement called Sprinkles. Sprinkles are packets (like small packets of sugar) containing a blend of micronutrients in powder form, which are easily sprinkled onto foods prepared in the home. Sprinkles can be stored in any condition for about 2 years, giving it longer shelf life than most foods. In the packets are iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc and folic acid. Vitamin A is needed for bone and tooth growth, along with sight and a healthy immune system. Folic Acid is part of an enzyme needed for making DNA and new red blood cells (Vitamins: Their Functions and Sources, 2018). Sprinkles is meant for children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years old. This is when most of the important growth is occurring and when key vitamins and nutrients are required. Any homemade food can be instantly fortified by adding Sprinkles. Coating of the iron prevents changes to the taste, color or texture (Combatting Malnutrition in Guatemala through the Distribution and Use of Sprinkles, 2009). The use of Sprinkles can easily be incorporated into everyday life. Sprinkles is cost-effective, 25 dollars can provide seven Guatemalan children with the vitamins and minerals they need for a year (Combatting Malnutrition in Guatemala through the Distribution and Use of Sprinkles, 2009).

Biguria, the president of Guatemala in 2014 came up with the idea of a Zero Hunger Pact. The Zero hunger pact is to get the community together to spend a weekend at the homes of poorer families to learn first hand what they are going through. After, the president and many government officials want to fight malnutrition issues and come across Casita de Los 1,000 Dias or 1,000 Days House. 1,000 Days House is a structure where women who are pregnant could go for 1,000 days, from the beginning of their pregnancy to about the time her child is two years old This house provides healthcare and public health. There is also nutrition training, sanitation training, and areas to measure the baby’s growth (How Guatemala finally ‘woke up’ to its malnutrition crisis, 2014). They are promoting healthy pregnancies, letting women know they need to eat five times a day, three meals and 2 snacks. CARE, a humanitarian organization, help with the “Three Steps to Health” program which teaches indigenous women to learn about the basics of maternal and child health. CARE also encourages farmers to keep 20 percent of what they produce, even if it means they lose money they could be making. Doing this means they would have foods of nutritional value for themselves and their children. (‘Invisible’ crisis scars children for life, 2015). The cost is 5,000 dollars per house and all supplies can be transported on the back of a pickup truck, making this very cost effective (How Guatemala finally ‘woke up’ to its malnutrition crisis, 2014).

Guatemala has a large output of agriculture, they make about 11 billion dollars in exports. This would be about 700 dollars per resident (Guatemala’s Top 10 Exports, 2018). United Nation agencies should treat malnutrition as a mainstream problem and not just one that occurs in emergencies (10 ways to end malnutrition, 2014). Ironically enough Guatemalan economy is based on family and corporate agriculture. The people of the family agriculture are the ones left poor and malnourished. The money they are getting paid for these jobs is about 3 dollars an hour. Instead of spending the money from exports on other things about half, 5.5 billion dollars, of it should go to the poorer communities. This would help the families be able to afford foods filled with more nutrients. The money should go towards building markets with affordable nutritional foods that families who only earn minimum wage could go to. Many hospitals are very far away and women cannot even afford a bus ticket to get there (‘Invisible’ crisis scars children for life, 2015). The money can go towards not only markets but healthcare facilities for these women and children. Guatemala exports much of their agriculture, instead of exporting all of it some of the agriculture should go to the poorer communities for no cost or little cost to them. If there is a cost it should be drastically smaller then the foods offered in local markets. The number one export of Guatemala is fruits and nuts, fruits are full of nutrients and vitamins and nuts are full of proteins. The number five export is animals and vegetables, animals are full of iron and nutrients, and vegetables are full of necessary vitamins and nutrients. Donating even a sixth of these exports to the indigenous people could make a difference in malnutrition.

Families and children are not educated about foods and that feeling full is not enough. Families must be educated about foods with proper nutrients and vitamins. Food programs and health specialists can come to the indigenous areas of Guatemala and teach about nutrients because the majority of the malnutrition issues are not only because they can not afford healthier foods it is because they are eating the wrong foods. Children are eating tortillas upon tortillas, or foods like ramen and feel full so they think they have eaten enough. Malnutrition is not about them not eating enough it is about them not eating the proper foods (‘Invisible’ crisis scars children for life, 2015). For children to get their much-needed vitamin A they should turn to carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. For vitamin C, they need some strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, and broccoli (Changing your diet: Choosing Nutrient-rich Foods, 2017). If children learn from a young age to like their fruits and vegetables and to eat them, they will become prone to looking for them and not the tasty yet very unhealthy junk food. Economic problems are the main issue, but the knowledge of what would make these children more nourished is lacking.

Malnutrition is one of the biggest problems worldwide. Malnutrition occurs in children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant. It is also the biggest cause of death in children because they are not getting the proper nutrients their immune systems do not function properly causing them to die of simple illnesses. Children also have many growth issues and cannot function properly. Many organizations are trying to help solve the problem of malnutrition. They are setting up places for women to go to learn about nutrients and supplying nutrient supplements. Guatemala should also donate some money coming from exports to these indigenous families and should get food programs to teach them about nutrients. Malnutrition is an ongoing problem, but something is being done and slowly it is helping.

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