Friday, 13 February 2015

No progress on combatting malnutrition in Indonesia

Nick Baker, Communications and Knowledge Management Officer

UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson discusses the Global Nutrition Report 2014.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

Indonesia has undergone seismic changes over recent years – from economic to political to technological – but one measurement has remained surprisingly stable: malnutrition.

The country has made almost no progress in reducing child malnutrition since 2007, according to the Global Nutrition Report (GNR) 2014, which the Government of Indonesia launched on Monday with UNICEF and other partners. The report assesses various nutrition outcomes for all 193 UN member states.

The GNR 2014 found that a staggering 37 per cent of Indonesian children under five are stunted, which indicates they do not grow properly, both physically and mentally. Poor Indonesians are 50 per cent more likely to be stunted than those in the upper wealth quintile, but still up to 30 per cent of Indonesian children from the wealthiest families are also stunted.

Indonesia is one of only 31 countries in the world that are not on course to meet the targets of the World Health Assembly on nutrition for 2025 related to reducing child stunting, wasting (which indicates that a child is too light for their height) or anaemia in women of reproductive age.

On the other hand, millions of children are overweight, and Indonesia is also off track to reaching the related global target. The report details how Indonesia is suffering a ‘double burden’ of both overnutrition and undernutrition. When stunting in early life is combined with excessive weight gain in later life, the risks of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases escalate.

Representatives of various Ministries discussed these sobering findings, and all committed to tackling the drivers of continuously high malnutrition in Indonesia.

The Minister of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS), Andrinof Chaniago stressed that malnutrition was a key economic issue for Indonesia. “Our growth rate would be higher if we invested more in combatting malnutrition,” he said.

The Coordinating Minister of Human Development and Culture, Puan Maharani highlighted the link between malnutrition and child marriage, which is still very common in Indonesia: “If girls marry and get pregnant when they are young, their babies are at a greater risk of being born with low birth weight,” she said.

The government committed to review current marriage legislation, which stipulates 16 as the minimum age for girls, while for boys it remains at 19 years, Ms. Maharani added.

UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson said the figures in the report were a wake-up call for all Indonesians. “We need to turn around this situation immediately, or another generation of children will be born small, will grow poorly, will do less well at school, will earn less as adults, and contribute less to Indonesia’s economy,” she said.

UNICEF is working with the government to strengthen breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, increase access of children and women to essential vitamins and minerals, and treat malnutrition.

The Government of Indonesia launched the national Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in 2013, which brings together a whole variety of key stakeholders - from government, civil society, donors, private sector, researchers and the UN  in a collective effort to improve nutrition. Within the SUN Movement, national leaders are prioritizing efforts to address malnutrition.

In Indonesia, UNICEF is the convener of the Donor and UN Country Network on Nutrition under the SUN Movement.