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How Hygiene, Sanitation And Potable Water Impact Nutrition

Nutrition is not just about a proper diet. Here’s how lack of proper hygiene, sanitation and safe drinking water can undermine any nutrition program.

Jheelum Basu, Abhirupa Kundu | Mar 10, 2021

Maintaining hygiene is a fundamental indicator of healthy living. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines hygiene as – “conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.” The availability of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene or WASH has a very profound impact on nutrition as well as the overall wellbeing of human beings. Around 297,000 children under five – more than 800 every day –according to the UN report, die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor hygiene, poor sanitation or unsafe drinking water.Awareness about hygiene, adequate access to safe potable water and proper sanitation facilities can collectively elevate the overall health and nutrition standard of a community.

Nutrition is not only about the quality and quantity of food consumed. Here’s how sanitation and hygiene directly and indirectly impact it.

Nutrition and diseases are interlinked with each other. Undernourishment prevents the growth of the immune system, making the body prone to diseases. Thus, if such a person is living in poorly sanitised places, the chances are that he/she will get affected by the infection sooner.

Washing hands regularly with soap and is imperative. The United Nations report suggests that forty percent or three billion people – of the global population is living without basic handwashing facilities with soap and water available at home.Infrequent hand washing practice often is the major cause behind the outbreak of various viral/bacterial/parasitic enteric diseases as the pathogens find their way to human guts from unwashed hands. An estimation carried out by World Health Organization holds lack of proper sanitation and hygiene conditions accountable for 50 per cent of child undernutrition due to recurrent diarrhoea and intestinal infections.

Adequate access to clean and safe drinking/potable water is one the most fundamental requirements of public health. Limited or no access to safe drinking water poses multiple challenges to nutrition. Moreover, it facilitates the outbreak of a number of water borne enteric diseases including Cholera, Diarrhoea, Typhoid and Dysentery. All these diseases meddle with the nutrient absorption mechanism of the body, which weakens the body’s immune system.

Lack of proper sanitation facilities is one of the most primary reasons of Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED). It is caused due to ingestion of faecal pathogens. Use of hygienic toilets and bathrooms plays a significant role in maintaining the well-being of a mother and a child. According to a report of The United Nations, 4.2 billion people are living without access to safely managed sanitation. The lack of sanitary hygiene also makes individuals susceptible to various infections caused by the Nematodes (soil-transmitted helminths). Uncontrolled exposure to the harmful faecal pathogens gives rise to chronic disorders characterised by compromised absorption of nutrients which causes stunting.

Breastfeeding, cleaning of washcloths of the infants should be done in a hygienic environment as uncleanliness can result to degradation of physical health.

A person’s oral health can be severely affected by their diet. A diet which does not comprise proper nutritional food items can cause tooth wear. Food items like sugar, beverages add to the degradation of dental hygiene. So it is critical to rinse your mouth after every meal or snack.

Maintaining the hygiene of food items is also crucial. The environment in which the food is cooked and the utensils and vessels that are used while preparing the meal also contributes a large deal in the lack of nutrition, as it can result to the cause of harmful diseases.

The term ‘Nutrition’ is never dependent solely on the quantitative or qualitative availability and intake of food. All these factors connecting out daily hygiene and sanitation to nutrition helps us to come to a conclusion that malnutrition isn’t just a outcome of lack of food but also a result of unsanitary conditions leading to contaminations and ailments.

Credit- The United Nations Report