8.4 Million Children Suffer From Malnutrition In Indonesia

Malnutrition is a major and growing concern in Indonesia. In fact, more than 8.4 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which causes them to be stunted or excessively small for their age.

Stunting due to malnutrition is responsible for reducing a child’s productivity. In addition, children who are stunted because of malnutrition are more susceptible to developing non-communicable diseases when they get older.

Non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and chronic lung diseases, force people into poverty due to the lengthy and high costs for medical treatment.

Additionally, according to a report by the World Bank, when children are stunted at an early age, they become less productive over the course of time. This lack of productivity results in poor education, low wages, and the risk of preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few.

Professor Dr. Endang Achadi, an expert in nutrition from the University of Indonesia, said the following about the challenges facing Indonesia.

“One of the main challenges in overcoming stunting in Indonesia is that shortness is often considered normal, due to hereditary reasons. Shortness is not the real problem. When it comes to stunting, other processes in the body are also stunted, such as brain development, which affects intelligence.”

Malnutrition starts in the early stages of childhood development. If a child is malnourished during a woman’s pregnancy stage, he or she becomes preprogrammed to cope with a minimum intake of nutrients.

Preprogramming and malnutrition during the early stages of pregnancy make a child more prone to obesity as his or her body develops. Later, the individual is likely to consume more food when they get older. More food consumption leads to an increased risk of non-communicable disease, including severe cases of diarrhea.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, is a United Nations Program headquartered in New York City. The non-profit organization reports that one in three children in Indonesia is stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

Stunting gets in the way and slows down a child’s brain development and overall physical growth. When a child doesn’t get enough nourishing food, he or she may suffer from diarrhea and other repeated diseases that cause the body to lose vital nutrients.

The World Bank report cites Indonesia suffers from a double burden of malnutrition. First, the life expectancy in the nation has increased, which contributes to Indonesians’ developing more diseases that are non-communicable.

Second, the nation’s wealth has increased, resulting in consumers purchasing more processed foods which doubles the fat consumption intake of the citizens of Indonesia, especially in urban areas.

Third, many of the towns and cities in Indonesia do not offer healthy foods. In addition, they don’t encourage physical activity. Those who travel to and from work and school have limited choices of healthy food outlets, and consumers choose ready-made food products instead.

Finally, in the majority of cases, Indonesian child nutrition is based on customs and traditional influences. Moreover, the Indonesian society dictates that women should marry at an early age, which contributes to increased incidences of low birth rates.

In order to help reduce the double burden of malnutrition, UNICEF volunteers throughout Indonesia are helping communities, especially women, become more educated in proper nutrition and healthier habits.

For more than 20 years, Sanyati has volunteered her time and energy to work as a UNICEF community health volunteer. She plays an important role in Indonesia’s health system by educating Indonesian women on nutrition and proper child care.

Sanyati offers a little insight on her personal experiences.

“Right after I was born, my mother gave me coconut water, and she also fed me rice with crushed palm sugar. And when my daughter was born, I immediately gave her formula, porridge and other food. But now that I know it’s not good, I feel bad.”

Sanyati corrected her mistake. She acquired educational material and training that focused on infant and child feeding, nutrition, and proper eating habits. Now, Sanyati shares her knowledge with other community members.

Sanyati expressed her thoughts on the training she received.

“At the training, I learned how to help mothers’ breastfeed correctly, and about healthy complementary feeding practices and the introduction of solid food to an infant’s diet. Most mothers in the village understood they should breastfeed for four months, but they didn’t know they should breastfeed exclusively for six months before introducing solid foods.”

Using UNICEF’s community-based strategy in reducing malnutrition has positively influenced communities, including mothers, their children, and caregivers, in ways to prevent stunting and malnutrition.

According to Sanyati, the training she received is most beneficial.

“Mothers used to buy instant porridge from the markets. I counseled mothers to instead use the family food, such as rice, chicken, and vegetables. Now even mothers from higher income families buy fresh food for their family and child.”

[Featured image via Hasan/UNICEF/2014]

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