Beyond the stereotype: the many faces of malnutrition in contemporary Tanzania

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PLoS Translational Global Health
Translational Global Health facilitates the translation of findings from basic science to practical applications in Global Health practice and, thus, meaningful health outcomes for diverse populations and societies. Translational Global Health is an independent blog on the PLOS BLOGS Network, focusing on the field, concepts and challenges of Global Health. Dr Alessandro Demaio and his team of regular guest bloggers bring honest, pragmatic discussion – with a special interest in Non-Communicable Disease and Global Health 2.0. PLoS Translational GH Blog content is shared via GHhub with permission.

A starving, emaciated child: this is the image that usually comes to most people’s mind when they think of malnutrition in Africa. However, what is less portrayed is a far more common form of undernutrition with life-long consequences that is not immediately visible to the human eye, a so-called hidden hunger known as chronic malnutrition or stunting. Chronically malnourished children are usually not thinner than other children, and they do not look undernourished. But they are shorter than their peers and therefore referred to as stunted. Although genetic differences and environmental factors also cause differences in population height potential, in some communities, stunting is so common that it is hard to know what is ‘normal’ and what is not.

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Beyond the stereotype: the many faces of malnutrition in contemporary Tanzania