Child malnutrition remains at concerning levels
THE Public Health Department has renewed its push to promote healthy eating in the first 1000 days of life after a recent report revealed the worrying extent of malnutrition and stunted growth of children aged under five in Myanmar.
“In developing countries, malnutrition is related to the mortality rate of children under five years old. A malnourished child is nine times more likely to die than a well-nourished child,” Dr Khin Saw Hla, deputy regional director of the Department of Public Health, said at an October 27 event in Yangon.
She added that healthy eating in a child’s first 1000 days of life is essential in order to combat stunting and other effects of malnutrition, such as anemia. Programs launched by the Ministry of Health will aim to improve nutrition in this period, she added.
Currently, more than one in three children below the age of five across the country suffer from stunted growth, a condition which reflects the cumulative effect of chronic malnutrition, according to the recently released “Myanmar Demographic and Health Survey”. Around 8 percent are severely stunted.
Stunting is defined as when a child is over two standard deviations below the reference median size of children of the same age, with severe stunting classified as three or more deviations.
In some parts of the country, such as Chin or Rakhine states, more than 50pc of the children suffer from stunting.
The Ministry of Health’s survey shows that the proportion of children who are underweight or stunted inversely correlates with wealth and location. Children from poor, rural backgrounds are at a far greater risk (38pc) than their wealthier, urban counterparts (27pc).
As such, stunting is highest in states or regions with high rural populations such as Ayeyarwady Region and Shan, Kayah, Rakhine and Chin states. Chin State, which by some measures is the poorest state in the country, has the highest share of stunted children, at 58pc.
Maternal nutrition and health are also significant determinants of a child’s nutrition and growth, said Dr Saw Eden of Save the Children.
In Myanmar, nearly 15pc of all children are stunted by the age of six months, indicating poor growth and development in utero.
“Mothers avoid eating some foods after childbirth due to traditional customs. These are bad habits. Educating mothers on nutrition is very important in reducing child malnutrition and stunting,” Dr Saw Eden said.
Katy Webley, director of program development, quality and advocacy at Save the Children, described these figures as worrying, and announced on October 27 that her organisation will focus on combating malnutrition and stunting over the next three years.
In order to reduce these significant levels of malnutrition and stunted growth, Ms Webley said that education and awareness programs delivered to parents and publically available health programs were vital.
Save the Children plans to initiate nutrition programs in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the National Nutrition Centre, and other CSOs and partners to this end.