Indonesia Expat
Lifestyle Sports/Health

Childhood Obesity and Malnutrition: The Twin Dangers

The release of a recent global survey produced by US Stanford University shocked few living in Indonesia after finding those who live in the country walk the least out of anywhere else on Earth. A multitude of theories have been floated as to why this is, but one thing is for certain: it has a damaging effect on the lives and wellbeing of children.

Indonesian children face dual health issues which appear to be in contradiction of each other – the rise of obesity and continuing malnutrition. With widening income inequality, quality of life differs dramatically across the country and with that difference comes divergent health needs.

For the middle and upper classes, childhood obesity and related health problems, such as shortness of breath and increased risk of developing diabetes, are a major concern. For middle and working class Indonesian children, malnutrition is an issue which has run-on effects in every very part of their lives, including difficulty concentrating in classes.

How prevalent is childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity is common in Indonesia – and growing. In 2010, government figures found 9.2 percent of Indonesian children aged between five and 12 could be classified as obese or overweight. By 2013, that number had climbed to 18.8 percent.

Jakarta, Bangka Belitung and Lampung had the highest prevalence of obese and overweight children in 2013. Jakarta ranked number one with a shocking 30.3 percent.

Indonesia Medical Nutritionists Association (PDGMI) Secretary-General Yusnita Anie said the results are ‘worrisome’ in an interview with The Jakarta Post.

“There is a trend of over nutrition among children in Jakarta This may cause degenerative diseases, which could be very dangerous for the child’s health,” Anie said.

Anie pointed to the prevalence of unhealthy foods in Jakarta and said the trend affected all children, not just the middle and upper classes. She warned a reliance on sugary and fatty street foods, as well as sweet drinks, is behind the trend.

“Childhood obesity could lead to gallstones and diabetes, among other diseases, which in the long term could lead to cardiovascular and brain disease,” she warned.

What about malnutrition?

It may at first seem illogical that Indonesia would deal with both malnutrition and obesity concurrently, but it is a common predicament many quickly developing nations find themselves in. The Indonesian government has worked hard in addressing malnutrition and poverty and these efforts have seen a long term decline in related childhood illnesses, like stunted growth.

Stunted growth causes a drop in concentration leading to poor academic outcomes and is a risk factor for obesity and noncommunicable diseases in adulthood, a Tempo reported earlier this month said.

But budget allocation and novel programs aren’t enough to fully resolve the problem. A dozen ministries have recently announced plans to support the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which aims to address the causes of malnutrition.

Malnutrition is caused by a number of factors, including poor health education, food insecurity and a lack of access to healthy foods. Indonesia is particularly prone to this with erratic weather and common natural disasters affecting both access and harvests.

This has been supported by President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo allocating an increase in funds to the eradication of poverty in the draft 2018 budget to support programs from the Finance, Health and other related ministries.

Featured Image by Nicole McCracken


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