Undernutrition, stunting rife: Dire state of diets among Palestinian kids underlined by new study

By Nurul Ain Razali contact

- Last updated on GMT

Study found that kids under five in Gaza face acute undernutrition and stunting. © Getty Images
Study found that kids under five in Gaza face acute undernutrition and stunting. © Getty Images

Related tags: Palestine, food insecurity, dietary intake, kids

There is a high prevalence of stunting, wasting and acute undernutrition among children under the age of five in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, a new study has concluded.

The high levels of food insecurity could also be postulated by factors such as low economic status, poor dietary intake and low levels of nutrition-related knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP), and the lack of dietary diversity, based on a recent cross-sectional study​.

The study, titled Households’ Food Insecurity and Their Association With Dietary Intakes, Nutrition-Related Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Among Under-five Children in Gaza Strip, Palestine​, was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

“In the Gaza Strip, Palestine, over 68% of households (about 1.3 million people) are severely or moderately food-insecure, according to the preliminary findings of the latest Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey carried out in 2018.

“Also, stunting (10.3%) remains the most prevalent form of undernutrition among children under five years, followed by underweight (2.5%) and wasting (2.4%). Moreover, a nutrition needs assessment was conducted in the most vulnerable areas in the Gaza strip, indicating that only 14% of children under five years of age had a minimum acceptable diet,”​ said the researchers.

This cross-sectional community-based study was conducted among a representative sample of children under five in all five Gaza strip governorates – North Gaza, Gaza, Middle-Area, Khanyounis and Rafa – in 2021.

A total of 350 children (54.8% males, 45.2% females) and their proxy were selected from all governorates using a cluster random sampling method. The estimated population of the Gaza Strip is around 2.1 million individuals.

Households having at least one child (male or female) aged five and above and living with his or her mother in the same household, and mothers and fathers aged at least 18 years and having children under five years old were included.

To measure the outcomes, the researchers utilised interview-based questionnaires, the 10-item Radimer/Cornell food-security scale (for food security status) and 24-hour dietary recalls for dietary intakes.

Findings

Results showed that children from food-insecure households had a high prevalence of facing stunting (32.8% of the subjects), moderate underweight (30.4%), acute undernutrition (30.4%) and wasting (9.6%).

There were also significant differences between food-insecure and food-secure groups in terms of weight (kg), height/length (cm), mid-upper arm circumference (cm), weight-for-age and mid-upper arm circumference z-scores, underweight, acute undernutrition, intakes of protein, fat, vitamin D, zinc, continued breastfeeding, having nutrition-related adequate knowledge and having nutrition-related positive attitudes.

Additionally, about 56% of food-insecure households have inadequate nutrition-related knowledge, 77.6% have nutrition-related negative attitudes, and 95.2% did not achieve a minimum dietary diversity score.

Overall, approximately two-thirds of the under-five children surveyed were in food-insecure households. This figure corroborated the present findings of other studies conducted in the Gaza Strip that also stated a high prevalence of household food insecurity.

“This indicates that food insecurity is a significant issue facing Palestinians in the Gaza strip. The study showed that food insecurity is common in households with lower economic status. Consistent with this result, the UNICEF malnutrition conceptual framework reported that the poor financial situation of households negatively affects food access,”​ analysed the team.

In conclusion, the children from food-insecure households had a higher prevalence of moderate underweight, stunting, wasting, and acute undernutrition.

Moreover, low economic status, poor dietary intake, low levels of nutrition-related KAP, and lack of dietary diversity could contribute to the high levels of food insecurity among under-five children.

“Policymakers should continue to focus attention and investments in the most appropriate combinations of interventions to mitigate food insecurity levels among under-five children in the Gaza strip, Palestine,”​ concluded the researchers.

Related topics: Nutrition, Middle East, Healthy living

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