Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

The height of malnourishment

1 NOVEMBER, 2017: Estimated figures for Asian child malnutrition contained in a joint study by UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank point to alarming levels of neglect with 87 million children 'stunted' in their growth for lack of nourishing food.

According to the report, "Stunting is the devastating result of poor nutrition in early childhood. Children suffering from stunting may never grow to their full height and their brains may never develop to their full cognitive potential. Globally, approximately 155 million children under 5 suffer from stunting."

Oddly, while a steady 'wasting' of the body affected an estimated 36 million children in Asia in 2016, as many as 20 million kids under five years were reported as overweight. This is partly due to fast food and modern affluence at the top of the social scale. The study puts the worldwide figure for 'wasted' children at a staggering 52 million.

Quoting the United Nations, SOS says that "India accounts for about 25 percent of the 2.7 million neonatal deaths that occur each year around the world... [and the] Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of child laborers, 78 million."

The Guardian newspaper comments, "The problem is not only humanitarian, but economic. And it is in the interest of governments to act - even if they are looking at the narrowest possible measures of national success – because they cannot compete if large portions of their workforces are stunted."

Writing on the unusual stunting of Indian children, The New York Times observed in an earlier article, "We found that the South Asian enigma begins only with the second-born child, and becomes more pronounced for each subsequent baby. Among children born third or later, 48 percent are stunted in India versus 40 percent in Africa, while the rates for firstborn children are 35 percent in India versus 37 percent in Africa."

Malnourishment spreads like an epidemic across SE Asia too. The World Food Programme's Myanmar head recounts in an interview that, "Myanmar is still the third-most malnourished country in Southeast Asia after Timor-Leste and Cambodia. There’s no reason for it. It’s a country that’s rich in resources. It’s just access to these resources, education and behavioural issues, and sometimes cultural practices that need to change to promote better nutrition."

A Save the Children Fund report in Singapore's Straits Times points to the Philippines as a worry as short stature was assumed to be a national trait, rather than a malnourishment spin-off. "Filipino men were on average 1.6m tall, one of the shortest in South-east Asia," the a spokesman avered. "Men in the 10-member Asean bloc are, on average, 2.54cm taller, with Singaporean and Thai men the tallest at about 1.7m... The global average for men is 1.68m."

- Asian Conversations