MORE than a quarter of children aged one to nearly two in Putrajaya are stunted, a study has revealed.
The Edge Markets in a report said the fact was revealed in the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2016, which found that 28% of children aged 12 to 23 months in the administrative capital suffer from stunting, or less than normal height growth.
The chief cause of stunting is chronic undernutrition.
The prevalence of stunted growth in Putrajaya is just 2% away from being called a health emergency by the World Health Organisation.
Nationally, it has been found that 20.7% of children under the age of five are stunted. This was reported in June in Malaysia’s first voluntary national review of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, presented to the UN General Assembly in New York.
The review concomitantly found that 24.9%, or nearly one in four, children in Malaysia experienced moderate or severe food insecurity due to financial constraints.
In comparison, in the US, one in six children was found to be food insecure in 2015.
An Australian university study funded by Unicef Malaysia and the Malaysian government found that 15% of children live in households with incomes that are less than twice the poverty line income (PLI).
“It is not just about a child being two inches shorter (than the average child), cognitive development is impaired,” says Dr Amjad Rabi, who led the Unicef Malaysia research team in the study, told The Edge Markets.
The long-term effect is a less productive workforce in future, he said.
Malaysia, he said, would become an ageing nation in 2020, which means it has only three years to boost economic productivity before the rate at which its working-age population is growing falls below the growth rate for the overall population.
“It used to be the case that we had a lot of children who would eventually add to the labour force,” Amjad says. “However, the new measure of development in Malaysia is productivity, not demography.”
Amjad said the challenges young mothers faced in the workforce could be explain the high rate of child malnutrition. “A mother who is going to work may not have enough time to cook nutritious food, so she relies on fast food.”
Further analysis must be conducted to understand the reason for the alarming indicators, he said.