Nutrient-empty food harming kids Poverty and low incomes blamed for bad diet2019.10.18
ADIET heavy on cheap, modern food like instant noodles that fills bellies but lacks key nutrients has left millions of children unhealthily thin or overweight in Southeast Asia, experts say.
The Philippines (菲律賓), Indonesia (印尼) and Malaysia (馬來西亞) have booming economies and rising standards of living, yet many working parents do not have the time, money or awareness to steer clear of food hurting their kids.
In those three nations, an average of 40 percent of children aged five years and below are malnourished, higher than the global average of one-in-three, according to a 15 October report from Unicef, the UN children’s agency.
“Parents believe that filling their children’s stomachs is the most important thing. They don’t really think about an adequate intake of protein, calcium or fibre,” Hasbullah Thabrany, a public health expert in Indonesia, said.
Unicef said the harm done to children is both a symptom of past deprivation and a predictor of future poverty, while iron deficiency impairs a child’s ability to learn and raises a woman’s risk of death during or shortly after childbirth.
Mueni Mutunga, Unicef Asia nutrition specialist, traced the trend back to families ditching traditional diets for affordable, accessible and easy-to-prepare ‘modern’ meals. “Noodles are easy. Noodles are cheap. Noodles are quick and an easy substitute for what should have been a balanced diet,” she said.
Indonesia was the world’s second-biggest consumer of instant noodles, behind China, with 12.5 billion servings in 2018, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.
Nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, fish and meat are disappearing from diets as the rural population moves to the cities in search of jobs, the Unicef report said.
Though the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are all considered middle-income countries by World Bank measures, tens of millions of their people struggle to make enough money to live.
“Poverty is the key issue,” said T Jayabalan, a public health expert in Malaysia, adding that households where both parents work need quickly made meals.
Low-income households in Malaysia depend largely on ready-made noodles, sweet potatoes and soya-based products as their major meals, he said.
Rolling back the influence instant noodles have on the daily lives, and health, of people in Southeast Asia will likely require government intervention, experts said.
“Promotion and advertising is extremely aggressive,” said Thabrany, the Indonesian public health expert.
“There is massive distribution. They (instant noodles) are available everywhere, even in the most remote places.”
(This article is published on the Student Standard on 18 October 2019)