Malnutrition Costs Economy $266 Million per Year, Study Finds

Malnutrition is costing the Cambodian economy $266 million annually in lost economic growth, according to study published last week in the journal Nutrients.

Researchers funded by France’s Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement estimated that the loss amounted to 1.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, with stunted development alone accounting for $120 million in lost costs.

The study’s calculations were based on the prevalence of 14 malnutrition indicators, such as iron deficiency and anemia, collected in the 2014 Cambodian Demographic Health Survey.

The authors applied “coefficients of risk” to the indicators to make projections for the future productivity costs of malnutrition-induced child mortality and cognitive damage as well as current costs in adult productivity and health care.

In the case of stunting, for example, researchers applied a rate of 19.8 percent loss of earnings—a rate borrowed from similar studies—to the estimated income of the 150,000 stunted children who will one day join the workforce.

Study author Frank Wieringa said the goal of the study was awareness rather than precise financial accuracy.

“Estimates are really only to show to policymakers that doing nothing to improve the nutritional status of the Cambodian population will cost the Cambodian government a lot of money,” Dr. Wieringa wrote in an email.

The human costs of malnutrition range from lasting cognitive damage to death, according to the study, which encourages the government to increase access to iodized salt and micronutrient supplements while acknowledging that there are no “easy wins” in addressing the issue.

Helen Keller International country director Keith Porter warned in an email that there was a “very real risk that the nutrition indicators could worsen” without increased action on the government’s existing initiatives.

Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann declined to comment on the study.

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