Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Govt told to cope with malnutrition

JAKARTA: A researcher has called on the government to bring malnutrition under control using an urban-rural approach with toddlers from poor families across the country, as the most recent data shows that more than one-fourth of the nation's youngsters are not getting enough to eat.

"Malnutrition in urban areas is mainly a result of poverty, while in rural areas the lack of health services and knowledge is the main cause," Saptawati Bardosono said while presenting her thesis to obtain a doctorate degree on nutrition at the University of Indonesia here on Thursday.

Saptawati conducted extensive research on poor families in North and East Jakarta, where most of the 1,700 children she examined below five years old were underweight and malnourished because their families could not provide adequate food for them.

She also visited poor villages in the Central Sulawesi town of Banggai, and the East Nusa Tenggara islands of Alor and Rote, where she found toddlers whose height was well below normal standards and who suffered from anemia, a vitamin and mineral deficiency which stunts physical and mental development.

She suggested that in places like Jakarta, where health services and information were adequate, the government provide more labor-based jobs to ensure that poor people could earn enough money to buy food.

In rural areas, food is relatively easy to get, but health services and information about nutrition are not, she said.

"I went to Papua last year and found that health services there were 20 years behind the rest of Indonesia," she said.

Malnourished children have a lower resistance to infection, making them vulnerable to common childhood ailments like gastric diseases and respiratory infections, which could cost them their lives.

Those who survive will frequently be ill and their physical and mental growth are irreversibly hampered.

According to data as of December 2002, more than 25 percent of Indonesia's 18 million children aged below five are suffering from malnutrition. --JP