Inflation, rising food costs will hit poorer children the hardest

The rising cost of living is affecting everyone, but the hardest hit are children of the poor, many of whom suffer from malnutrition.

Consultant paediatrician and researcher, Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS, said with inflation, the rising cost of goods, and with many still without jobs, parents find it difficult to make ends meet.

“They have to compromise on the quality of food, and this will affect the younger children.

“As a result, their children are not getting the proper food they need, and when they do not get enough nutrition, they suffer physically, and mentally,” he said.

Dr Amar said the Welfare Department looks only at the hardcore poor. Many poor families are not getting the help they need as they come in just above the hardcore poverty line.

The government yesterday announced the removal of the ceiling price for chicken eggs, chicken from July 1. The subsidies for cooking oil in bottles (2kg, 3kg and 5kg) will also be removed starting next month.

According to Domestic Trade and Consumers Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi, the price of chicken is expected to be between RM10 and RM12 per kg, following the removal of the ceiling price.

Prices of vegetables have also skyrocketed.

“When this happens, parents buy the cheapest items they can afford,” said Dr Amar.

“But when they do this, the food they buy may not have enough nutrition for their children and could result in them being physically, and mentally stunted.”

In August 2020, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (Unicef) ‘Families on the Edge’ explored the impact of Covid-19 on women and children in low-income urban families in Malaysia. It revealed that families in urban areas had to cut down on food intake due to job losses, as income dropped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A follow-up study by Unicef between Jan 13 and March 4, 2021, revealed that many families were close to the breaking point, as 60 per cent of households were unable to purchase enough food. Before the pandemic, 33 per cent said they did not have enough money to buy food.

In February 2018, Unicef released a report, ‘Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur’.

The study involved 966 heads of households and 2,142 children from 17 low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. It found that the prevalence of malnutrition increased among children aged five and below, living in these low-cost flats.

Experts had also stated that mothers from lower-income groups in Malaysia, who could not breastfeed their children and could not afford infant formula, often diluted the milk to make it last longer. Others used watered-down condensed milk to feed their children.

Nutrition Society of Malaysia president, Dr Tee E Siong, said young children needed more nutrition than adults, as their minds and bodies were still growing.

“Using condensed milk to feed babies was something that happened 50 years ago,” said Dr Tee.

“We should not go back to the bad old days.”

He added that nutritionists have long argued that condensed milk should not be classified as ‘milk’ as it has too much sugar, and is bad for adults, and even worse for children.

“I know it is not easy, but parents must not look at brands when buying milk. Even the cheapest infant formulas are better than condensed milk.”

Dr Tee also said education on nutrition is crucial, as many parents do not know the value of a good meal.

“A balanced meal is important. It’s important to give children enough proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables.

“A tin of sardines is a good source of protein. It is also reasonably cheap. Parents have to be smart when shopping. Sometimes, canned foods can be a good source of nutrition, and will not hurt the budget.

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