High Food Prices Stopping Child Health Gains, Survey Shows

A national survey to determine the effect of rising food prices found that improvements in child health in Cambodia have come to a halt and malnutrition and diseases among young children are on the rise, the National Institute of Statistics said Tuesday.

Research results of the Cambo­dian Anthropometrics Survey carried out last November, showed that the nutritional status of young children had slightly worsened compared to 2005.

Among children under the age of five, 8.9 percent were found to be “acutely malnourished”-a key indicator based on weight-height ratio-compared to 8.4 percent of children under five in 2005, according to the NIS.

This increase in malnourished children runs counter to the large gains made in that area in the first half of the decade, which saw the percentage of acutely malnourished children under five cut in half between 2000 and 2005.

“Nationally, the expected im­provement of child nutrition has stopped,” Joel Conkle, a consultant for the NIS, said during a presentation of the survey.

The prevalence of diseases such as diarrhea, fever and acute respiratory infection among young children is on the rise, Conkle said, adding that more research was needed to determine the extent of this increase.

In the case of fever, prevalence among children younger than four years rose up to 58.9 percent in 2008 compared to 39.6 percent in 2005.

The worsening child nutrition and health status is likely to be caused by rising food prices, as research showed a decline in the consumption of more expensive foods such as meat and fish, Conkle said. Malnutrition among young children quickly makes them more susceptible to disease, he added.

Positive findings of the re­search included improvements in the nutritional status of women and children younger than two years.

The research stated that children in the Tonle Sap basin and in poor urban areas were hit hardest by price increases. Poor urban children are in an “emergency situation,” Conkle said, with the prevalence of “acutely malnourished” children under five jumping from 9.6 percent in 2005 to 15.9 percent in 2008.

“It is alarming that acute malnutrition is rising among children older than two years,” Viorica Berdaga, Unicef child curvival and development program chief, said.

“It might indicate there is an emergency situation in the Tonle Sap area and in some urban areas,” she said, adding that stakeholders in food security should meet soon and “take action as soon as possible.”

Dr Heng Taykry, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Health, said he was unaware of the re­search results, adding that he doubted that rising food prices would influence child health.

“Right now Cambodian people have a better standard of living, they can eat enough food,” he said, adding: “They can buy a modern motorbike so they could also serve enough food.”

The survey, carried out with support from Unicef and the UN Development Program, surveyed the nutritional status of 7,500 women and children to measure the effect of rising food prices. The NIS calculated that during 2008 the price of food rose by ten percentage points more than price increases in other consumer goods.

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