Child malnutrition a huge regional challenge: study

June 18, 2022 | 11:30 pm PT
A large-scale study has highlighted the "triple burden" of child malnutrition in Southeast Asia - coexistence of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight/obesity.

These three burdens often coexist in the same country and can even occur in the same family.

The study of nearly 14,000 children aged six months to 12 years in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand was conducted between 2019 and 2021. The children were from urban and rural schools, community health centers and sub-district administrative organizations in the four countries.

Commissioned and sponsored by multinational dairy giant FrieslandCampina, the study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Indonesia; the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; Thailand’s Mahidol University and Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition.

The study followed the Southeast Asian Nutrition Surveys (SEANUTS I), which were presented in 2012. The second study (SEANUTS II) showed that stunting and anemia were still prevalent, especially in younger children.

Among the older children, there was higher prevalence of overweight and obesity.

Also, most children did not meet the average needs of calcium and vitamin D intake and showed vitamin D insufficiencies.

Key results of SEANUTS II. Screenshot

Key results of SEANUTS II. Graphics by FCV

It revealed that more than 70 percent of the children in all four countries did not meet the average needs for calcium and more than 84 percent did not meet the average vitamin D requirements.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Dr. Poh Bee Koon, Principal Investigator for SEANUTS II in Malaysia and Professor of Nutrition at UKM’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Center for Community Health Studies, said: "These numbers emphasize an urgent need to improve food security, as well as the availability of food products that meet the children’s needs, thus increasing access to healthy nutrition. Healthy nutrition is about balance, moderation and variety. If children don’t get the nutrition they need, they won’t grow and develop properly."

Other experts also opined that the "triple burden" stresses the importance of filling nutritional gaps with proper nutrition interventions and educational programs.

Margrethe Jonkman, Global Director, Research & Development, FrieslandCampina, said: "Results from this study will help FrieslandCampina in developing better and affordable products that meet the nutritional needs of children and in setting up programs to promote a well-balanced diet and active lifestyle in collaboration with local authorities, health workers and schools."

SEANUTS II emphasise an urgent need to improve food security and food products that meet the children’s needs. Photo by FCV

The SEANUTS II study has emphasized an urgent need to improve food security and nutrition among children in Southeast Asia. Photo by FCV

Richard Kiger, Managing Director of FCV, said the study results will help to better customize the company’s strategic partnership program with the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam, called "For Vietnam to leap forward and reach higher." The program focuses on nutritional education and development of physical playgrounds at primary schools nationwide.

SEANUTS II has highlighted the "triple burden" of child malnutrition in Southeast Asia.

FrieslandCampina is one of the largest dairy companies in the world with a cooperative tradition going back 150 years. The company processes milk from dairy farms into a wide range of dairy products and ingredients.

It provides consumers with dairy products like milk, yoghurt, condensed milk, dairy-based beverages, cheese, butter, quark, and cream.

It also supplies specific nutrition to specific consumer groups, like children, the elderly, and sportspeople.

Professional customers, such as bakers, pastry chefs, chocolate confectioners, chefs, and caterers use a broad product range from the company, including creams, butters, desserts and fillings.

The company also supplies high-quality ingredients to international food producers and pharmaceutical companies.

Royal FrieslandCampina N.V. is fully owned by Zuivelcoöperatie FrieslandCampina U.A., with 15,703 dairy farmers in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany as members.

It has branches in 32 countries and exports to more than 100 countries worldwide. As of 2021, FrieslandCampina has 22,961 total employees across all of its locations.

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