Why are people in Sub-Saharan Africa shrinking?

An story in the news recently revealed the world’s tallest and shortest nations.

A study has tracked growth trends in 187 countries since 1914. Good news for the UK — we’ve got four inches taller on average since 1914, with the average man at 5’10’ and the average woman at 5’5’!

But the study found that not everybody around the world has been growing. It showed that in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, people have actually got shorter since the 1970s. Uganda and Sierra Leone — two countries we work in — are two of the nations to have lost a few centimeters.

Why do these whimsical-sounding stats matter?

Well, average height tells us a lot about what’s going on nutritionally. The study’s authors say that these increases and decreases in height are largely driven by the standard of healthcare, sanitation and nutrition available in that country. “Also important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy,” they say.

Since May this year, Pregnancy Twinning has been piloting our Mother Buddies programme in Sierra Leone. Not only is it the world’s most dangerous place to give birth, but the area we’re working in also suffers from a real nutrition problem.

1,000 days of growth

It’s so important that pregnant women get adequate nutrition during pregnancy, and that babies and toddlers get a good, balanced diet at the start of their lives. Studies have found that children who get the right nutrition in their first 1,000 days are ten times more likely to overcome life-threatening childhood diseases, complete nearly five more grades in school, go on to earn 21% more in wages as adults and are more likely to have healthier families of their own.

That’s why we really want to follow the children born through Pregnancy Twinning in Sierra Leone and Malawi to make sure their parents are confident in making good nutritional choices in the vital first 1,000 days and beyond. We’re planning to put in place longer-term follow-up visits by Mother Buddies to monitor each family’s nutrition and keep giving advice for two years.

We’d love the next generation in Sierra Leone to grow up healthy, HIV-free, and perhaps a little taller… Watch this space for news about how you can help.

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