A diet heavy on cheap, modern food like instant noodles that fills the belly but lacks key nutrients has left millions of children unhealthily thin or overweight in Southeast Asia, experts say.
The Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia have booming economies and rising living standards, yet many working parents do not have the time, money or awareness to get rid of food that hurts their children.
In these three nations, an average of 40% of children aged five and under are undernourished, higher than the global average of one – in-three, according to a report by UNICEF, the UN Children’s Agency, on Tuesday.
UNICEF has concluded that harm done to children is both a sign of past deprivation and a predictor of potential hardship, while iron deficiency impairs the child’s ability to learn and increases the risk of death of a woman during or shortly after childbirth.
Indonesia had 24.4 million children under the age of five last year, while the Philippines had 11 million children and Malaysia had 2.6 million children under the age of five last year.
Mueni Mutunga, UNICEF Asia Nutrition Specialist, traced the trend back to families digging traditional diets for inexpensive, convenient and easy-to-prepare “new” meals.
The noodles, which cost as little as 23 US cents a packet in Manila, are low in essential nutrients and micronutrients such as iron and are also protein-deficient despite having a high content of fat and salt, added Mutunga.
Indonesia was the second-largest consumer of instant noodles in the world, behind China, with 12.5 billion servings in 2018, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.
The number is more than the total amount produced by India and Japan.
Although the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are all considered middle-income countries by the World Bank, tens of millions of their people are struggling to make enough money to live.
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