MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Govt subsidies vital to combat child stunting, says nutritionist


Sending children to proper childcare centres will not only help them with their nutrition, but also with their education, says Foo Leng Huat of Universiti Sains Malaysia. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A nutritionist says the government should provide subsidies to help poor families buy nutritious food for their children, noting that “raising awareness” alone is insufficient to effectively combat the stunting of child growth.

On Dec 21, Senator RA Lingeswaran said he was shocked when the health ministry told him in a written reply that 498,327 children had been classified as stunted, mostly because of their socio-economic situation.

Foo Leng Huat of Universiti Sains Malaysia said it was not a lack of knowledge about healthy eating that hindered lower-income families, but the lack of financial means to purchase nutritious food.

Foo Leng Huat.

“We already have so many programmes to increase awareness of healthy eating. But they (lower-income families) don’t have the money to buy healthy and balanced food.

“The politicians tend to give them supplements, and only once in a long while. Maybe during elections or festival celebrations, and how long is that going to last?” he told FMT.

Foo also said that lower-income families frequently send their children under five years old to unregistered childcare facilities because of financial constraints. To address this issue, he said, the government should also provide subsidised childcare options.

“They (the children) can get a proper education from early childcare teachers. Setting up childcare for poor families can help them not only with nutrition, but also with their education,” he said.

Another nutritionist, Chen Seong Ting of International Medical University, said studies had shown that childhood stunting has far-reaching consequences, impacting cognitive development, academic achievements, psychosocial well-being, economic productivity, and long-term health.

“Proper growth and development in childhood require essential nutrients, and chronic malnutrition can lead to delays in milestones, compromised organ function, and weaker bones.

Chen Seong Ting.

“Early signs of stunting include slow growth, low body weight, and delayed development. Addressing nutritional deficiencies involves individualised intervention, dietary management, and regular monitoring,” she said.

In addition to ongoing healthcare initiatives, nutrient supplementation, and educational programmes, Chen said greater emphasis should be placed on addressing the social determinants of stunting, particularly food insecurity.

“It is crucial to encourage collaboration among various sectors, including the government, NGOs and the private sector, to collectively address the issue of childhood stunting caused by chronic malnutrition,” she said. - FMT

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