GUATEMALA CITY – A study released in this capital found that 45.6 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition and that their physical growth falls below the average established by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The nationwide census of children attending Guatemala’s public schools, jointly carried out by the Education and Health ministries, determined that children between the ages of eight and nine were most affected by malnutrition.
The study, which was released Feb. 12 and received the support of specialists from international organizations, found that girls suffered the effects of poor nutrition disproportionately, accounting for 60 percent of all cases of children with lower than normal height for their age.
On average, Guatemalan girls are between eight and 12 centimeters shorter than the average set by the WHO.
In indigenous areas, where poverty levels are highest, the study found that 49.7 percent of children suffer from malnutrition, mainly in the western provinces of Solola and Totonicapan.
The census was conducted in August, 2008 among 459,808 children at 15,076 public schools.
Juan Aguilar, head of the presidency’s Food Security Secretariat, told reporters that the lack of adequate food, poverty and a dearth of basic services are the primary causes of this scourge, adding that malnutrition not only limits biological growth among minors but also stunts their ability to learn.
According to official figures, 52 percent of Guatemala’s 13.3 million people live in conditions of poverty or extreme poverty.