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July 1, 2014

Despite rich natural resources, many Guatemalan children suffer from malnutrition

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Although infant death rates have dropped significantly worldwide over the past few decades, in the South American country of Guatemala around 50 percent of all children are malnourished, many to the point that they are physically and developmentally stunted for life.

In rural areas like the Mayan highlands, the statistics are even higher, where around one in eight children are physically stunted from lack of nutrition. Their main diet consists of just beans.

The startling height difference between Mayans and the general population was once thought to be genetic, but experts now say malnutrition may be more to blame.

The first two years of a child’s life is critical. Babies who are not properly nourished are more likely to have stunted growth, lower IQs and a higher risk of disease, even if they are properly fed in their later years.

Guatemala has an abundance of vegetable farms, including lettuce, string beans and cabbage, but most of it is exported to other countries, including the United States. Very little of the fresh vegetables are eaten by Guatemalan locals. This is called the agricultural paradox.

Guatemalan leaders have recently begun considering different approaches to tackle the child malnutrition issue. Hundreds of government officials and business leaders spent a night in the homes of the rural poor. After this experience, many say they have a vested interest in the malnutrition problem of their country.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Guatemala?
  2. What is malnutrition? What are its effects?
  3. What makes a healthy diet?
Discussion questions
  1. Why do you think most Guatemalan fresh vegetables are shipped to other countries instead of staying in Guatemala?
  2. Why do you think most people in Guatemala City were unaware of their country’s malnutrition two years ago? How do you think they are more informed now?
  3. Guatemala has the highest GDP (Gross domestic product) in Central America yet one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition. Why do you think this is so?
  4. Whose responsibility is it to tackle issues of malnutrition in Guatemala? The government, charity organizations, individuals or someone else?
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