A large-scale study has highlighted the triple burden of child malnutrition in 4 Southeast Asian countries which include Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The 2nd South East Asian Nutrition Survey was a study on 14,000 children, from both urban and rural areas, aged six months to 12 years in the 4 countries from 2019 to 2021. It was commissioned by dairy giant FrieslandCampina in collaboration with the University of Indonesia, the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Thailand’s Mahidol University, and Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition.
According to the study, the 3 burdens of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight/obesity can coexist in the same country and can even occur in the same family. Research found that up to 70% of these children did not meet the average needs of Calcium and more than 84% did not meet the average Vitamin D requirements.
The study principal investigator for Malaysia, Professor Dr Poh Kee Boon said, “Healthy nutrition is about balance, moderation and variety. If children do not get the nutrition they need, they would not grow and develop properly. These numbers emphasise an urgent need to improve food security, as well as the availability of food products that meet the children’ needs, thus increasing access to healthy nutrition.”
Dr Poh added that one in 4 Malaysian children consumes a portion size of less than 100ml of dairy, fewer than five times a week. “Dairy is commonly consumed during breakfast, yet, one in three children in Malaysia does not get daily breakfast.”
The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2020 recommended that a balanced diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and protein foods, including 2 servings of dairy products per day. “Research showed that stunted children with an unbalanced diet are more likely to suffer from anaemia and iron deficiency. Poor nutrition also has a negative impact on children’ cognition and potentially on their future lives,” he added.
The study also emphasised on the need to fill nutritional gaps with proper interventions and educational programmes.
FrieslandCampina Research & Development Global Director Margrethe Jonkman said this research was key to getting a better understanding of local nutritional needs. She concluded, “The results from this study will help FrieslandCampina develop better and affordable products that meet the nutritional needs of children and set up programmes to promote a well-balanced diet and active lifestyle with local authorities, health workers and schools.”
Indeed, the results of this research will also embolden food and beverage manufacturers to innovate and bring out new products to cater to the growing nutritional needs of children in these 4 countries. Some examples include to launch more calcium- and vitamin D-fortified food and beverages for children and these could be in the form of fortified milk, dairy products, cereals and juices.