Malaysia is a developing country that has advanced in food availability, affordability and stability. Food scarcity is not an apparent problem we face anymore. Yet, while food is secure and while most have sufficient to eat, undernutrition remains high in Malaysia.
The matter is no longer one of food quantity and accessibility but food quality.
Globally, the occurrence of stunting for kids below 5 in 2016 is 23% which is almost 3 times more prevalent than the more known problem of being overweight which is 6%.
In Malaysia itself, stunting increased from 17.2% in 2006 to 20.7% in 2016 for children under the age of 5. That makes up 1 in every 5 children being stunted in their early years of growth.
What is stunted growth?
Stunting is primarily the outcome of a child not receiving adequate nutrients since young, especially in their sensitive growing period. It is usually seen in height lost in their early years. The WHO classify stunting as when the children’s height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.
What are the negative outcomes?
Stunting is not simply about having a shorter stature, but includes its severe irreversible outcomes.
The effects of stunting are mostly permanent despite consequential nourishments in later years. The long-term effects of stunted growth are a decreased cognitive and physical development, poor health and a higher risk for non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and degenerative diseases.
Consequently, stunted cognitive growth will impair children’s school performance, reduced productivity across life and even lead to lower earnings income in the future. Stunting leads to a substandard living quality.
An impaired immune system due to stunting may also give rise to greater susceptibility to contracting infectious diseases, leading to early deaths (Manan, Sundaram & Tan, 2019).
What are the causes of stunted growth?
1. Maternal Health
2. Feeding Practices
3. Parental Negligence
How to prevent stunted growth?
The consequences of stunting are very much irreversible after two years since birth. Therefore, parents must ensure healthy feeding practices for their infants to ensure they receive the nutrients they need.
1. Focus on the child’s critical growth period.
2. Exclusive breastfeeding until the child is at least 6 months old.
3. Timely introduction of complementary foods
4. Introduce a wide-range of food types
5. Be conscious of growth milestones
For children who are older, parents are responsible to provide nutritious meals for their children. Convenience must not be the reason to neglect their health and nutrient needs. Parents must therefore be diligent in being aware and knowledgeable of the family’s food consumption in their habitual routine.
*The article is not intended to replace any medical advice. Kindly make sure to consult a pediatrician for proper personal medical advice.
Manan, W., Sundaram, J. K. and Tan, Z. G. (September 2019). Addressing Malnutrition in Malaysia. Khazanah Research Institute.
‘United Nations Children’s Fund’ (n.d.). Children, Food and Nutrition: State of the World’s Children 2019. A look at child malnutrition in Malaysia and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/malaysia/children-food-and-nutrition-state-worlds-children-2019
Wong. J. E. (August 2019). Stunting in children still a problem in Malaysia. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2019/08/09/stunting-in-children-problem-malaysia