The foodie nation wakes up to the bald truth: More and more people including children are becoming malnourished.

By Roger Rodrigo

The notion that Malaysians are generally well-fed may soon fade into myth.

Over the last few years, the livelihoods of many in the lower-earning categories have come under threat. Loss or reduced incomes and soaring prices have forced many to survive on bare-bones meals.

This is an instinct to survive and while adults may be able to cope it is the children who will become prone to a host of health issues in the long run.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published a special report in October 2019 entitled “Hungry In The City” where they interviewed three residents of low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur.

Below we carry some excerpts from the report.

“One of the most heartbreaking stories came from single mother Rohana, whose 7 children, she reluctantly admitted, had not eaten a decent meal in days before the interview. Rohana does not have a stable job and makes a small profit selling homemade soaps and toiletries online. In good months, she sees up to RM300 in profit but this varies from month to month and most of the time, she makes much less. She receives RM400 from Baitulmal. But this amount is barely enough to feed her children and herself even the most modest of food after paying rent and bills. 

“Most days our lunch and dinner will be white rice with a piece of chicken from a stall nearby that we cut into many small pieces to share. On better days, we may have some egg.” 

“Breakfast is often unheard of in her home. It is shown that Malaysian children frequently skip breakfast. For Rohana - this is not by choice.”

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According to the Global Hunger Index in 2019 Malaysia sits in 57th position among 117 nations denoting the presence of moderate hunger levels.

“Though Malaysia has been able to drastically reduce the country’s poverty rate, malnutrition is still a major issue in Malaysia,” notes the Index.

“Malnutrition is an imbalance in a person’s energy or nutrient consumption. The condition is not always as obvious as one would presume. It is common in many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures for daily diets to be quite starch-heavy; this is common as most of the meals consist of rice in some way. Though this allows people to feel full, a diet that is heavily reliant upon starch doesn’t include the nutrients needed for a truly healthy lifestyle.”

Some startling results were revealed about children’s health.

“Poverty and malnutrition in Malaysia have a severe long-term impact on children. 23% of children aged four are stunted, with 22% underweight and 32% wasting, or thinner than the average. In a study surveying 16 low-cost Public Housing Projects in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the research found that 22% of children under five experienced stunted growth, which is double the global rate.”

More sobering facts have emerged from the Index: “Despite having a comparatively higher GDP to other nations struggling with hunger issues, the people in Malaysia experience higher rates of malnourishment and impaired growth. 12% of children in Malaysia eat fewer than three meals a day and 97% of households reported that they felt that the cost of food was too high and it hindered their ability to prepare healthy meals for their children.”

But progress is also being made through the dedication of NGOs like the Rising Against Hunger Malaysia and The Lost Food Project. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals include a plan to eradicate hunger and poverty in countries such as Malaysia by the year 2030.

Hunger and poverty are closely linked. In 1970 half of Malaysian households were poor. By 1985 the destitute were reduced to 25%. By 2002 the numbers fell to 5.1%. However further progress may have been hampered by slower job creations, stagnant wages, rising food prices and Covid-19.

On the hunger front, there are still many battles to win. These concerns must not be taken lightly.

Perhaps the following words will remind us how grave that concern should be.

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” –Mahatma Gandhi



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