Stunting story weighs hunger versus malnutrition

This stunting story weighs hunger versus malnutrition in relation to the general acceptance of the public and even many NGOs that refined grains are good food; like super maizemeal and polished rice.

In Parts I and II we considered the extent of the problem facing South African society. Nearly half of children in many rural villages are permanently stunted, mentally and/or physically; irreparably so. For the whole country that figure is over one quarter of all our kids; by the age of five.

In Part III we will today focus on the confusion between hunger and malnutrition.

Are our children plagued by hunger? Or should that be malnutrition? Is there a difference?

Stunting Kwashiorkor

Food should supply energy and the many vital nutrients necessary for a healthy brain and body. In addition it should give satiety, that sense of fullness that comes after an enriching meal. That means plenty of fibre, the healthy fats and adequate protein.

Yet examination of the meals being handed out by many Food Banks, well-meaning NGOs and school nutrition programmes reveals that everything is hopelessly out of balance. They tend to be very high in processed carbs like sugar, cake flour and refined maize. Imported white rice from the East is, or at least was cheap; currently the price is at its highest but it is easy to store and transport because the bugs have no interest.

But all are very low in fibre, the good fats and protein. They are pseudo foods that masquerade as the real thing; they do not supply energy and nutrients.

Real food is without a doubt more costly, difficult to transport and has a finite shelf-life. The oils in true whole grains start to go rancid once milled; fresh milk, cheese and meat all have to be refrigerated. The avian flu epidemic means a shortage of eggs.

In order to achieve satiety, children eating processed food like polished rice and maizemeal have to consume a far greater quantity; too much starch in fact. The consequence is stunting but coupled with obesity; what the scientists call “chronic over consumption of carbs.” It’s the first step on the road to hell, paved with good intentions; also known as type-2 diabetes.

"Vegetables are eaten under two times per week in 45% of households."

- Nutrients[3]

Large companies donate their inferior products for free instead of advertising gaining huge PR, often tax breaks and giving the feeling to impressionable young minds that these are the “good” foods.

And so today we find that polished rice, cake flour and super-refined maizemeal have a firmly established place in the “healthy food basket.”

Now add to that the confusion coming from politicians and some scientists over what constitutes good food. The McGovern Senate Select Committee on Nutrition in 1977, for example, probably gave the most misleading and dire guidance ever to Americans; advice that is still believed and followed today. Within ten years obesity, diabetes and the chronic degenerative diseases began to rise; and continue to soar.

Campbell's 20 year diabetes rule

The unintended consequence of that commission is that people turned from the traditional diet of whole grains to those that are highly refined; and from animal fat to excessive inflammatory seed oils. It continues to negatively influence the whole world.

Much simply is about balance. Soybean and sunflower seed oils contain essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot thrive without but today constitute 10% of the energy in many diets; that is highly inflammatory giving a sound explanation for the steep rise in chronic degenerative diseases.

Examining many food aid packages, we find they are hopelessly out of balance. Seed oils and refined carbs predominate; that may satisfy hunger pangs for an hour or two but it’s malnutrition of the worst sort. It is little wonder that more than a quarter of South African children are constantly hungry and irreversibly stunted; and ironically frequently simultaneously obese.

Research confirms that stunted children grow into adults that are at a higher risk of developing chronic degenerative diseases such a diabetes, metabolic syndrome and stroke.


corn in flower

Another facet of stunting in South Africa, one often missed is the government’s insistence on centralising meals to schools. A large company is tasked with feeding millions of children. To make a profit they have to keep transport costs down; and provide cheap food with a long shelf life.

The alternative of empowering the local community to provide whole, fresh and nutritious but bulky food for school children is inconsistent with government ideology. The thought of enabling the people to farm eggs, milk and corn on the cob for local state institutions is quite outside of their centralised planning; and unrefined maize meal too.

Clearly our food system at every level needs transformation. There is enough to go round nationally but reducing food waste, getting the excess to the poor and empowering local farmers is proving hugely challenging.

Eggs 19 hidden nesting place


South Africa has taken the unpopular decision to place a sin-tax on sugar. There is general consensus amongst nutritionists that whilst we all have a sweet tooth, it’s extremely bad for us; and particularly our children. However there is no such universal agreement that all refined carbs should be treated in the same way.

In fact the chairman of the American Heart Association is on record as having said that cake flour and super refined maizemeal are even worse for our bodies than sugar.

These food sin-taxes could then be ring fenced to provide subsidies on those starches, protein and fats that provide not only energy but also even more importantly nutrients vitally needed to prevent stunting; and to stimulate the immune system.

School feeding schemes are central to both the problem and the solution. Currently they continue to supply many pseudo foods from which much of the goodness has been extracted; like super-refined maizemeal. Imported white rice places a massive R9 billion drain on the Fiscus; yet SA can produce more than enough starch for its own people.

We discussed that real food must contain both nutrients and energy; current school feeding schemes do not qualify thus it comes as no surprise that so many millions of children are permanently stunted.

 "People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

- Rob Siltanen

Stunting story weighs hunger versus malnutrition

Stunting story weighs hunger versus malnutrition in our children; tragically by the age of five even before they have reached school.

  1. The stunting story has three elements
  2. Stunting story and severe food insecurity
  3. Stunting story weighs hunger versus malnutrition
  4. Stunting story recommends local mills for freshly-ground grains
  5. Stunting story suggests scenarios to restore harmony and balance
  6. Stunting story ponders what government could do


Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself and Mother Earth for future generations; and your family too, of course. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.

Here are the back issues.

  • Lifestyle and ideal body weight
  • What are ultra-processed foods?
  • Investing in long-term health
  • Diseases from plastic exposure
  • Intensive lifestyle management for obesity has limited value
  • A world largely devoid of Parkinson's Disease
  • The impact of friendly bacteria in the tum on the prevention of cancer
  • There's a hole in the bucket
  • Everyone is talking about weight loss drugs
  • Pull the sweet tooth
  • If you suffer from heartburn plant a susu
  • Refined maize meal and stunting
  • Should agriculture and industry get priority for water and electricity?
  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home

Did you find this page interesting? How about forwarding it to a friendly book or food junkie? Better still, a social media tick would help.


56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa