Stunting levels in Laos remain a public health concern even without a lockdown, but the recent restrictions on movement and difficulties in obtaining food during the Covid-19 outbreak have exacerbated the situation, nutrition experts say.
A recent Covid-19 impact survey on food security and agriculture, conducted by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, indicates that about one-third of respondents felt a negative change regarding food consumption.
Most of those surveyed said they were unable to consume all food groups due to price increases and the reduced availability of meat in markets.
Where healthy options are few, a newer problem is the prevalence of unhealthy snack foods and beverages, which are high in sugar, fat and salt and have low nutrition density.
The consumption of these packaged foods appeals to both children and adults for their convenience, low cost, long shelf life, and taste. But consumption of these foods not only increases rates of obesity in both adults and children, it also impacts children’s consumption of nutritious and diverse foods.
With Covid-19 posing additional challenges, protecting the immunity of children is more important than ever.
A nutritious diet is key to the development of a good immune system, which includes breastfeeding up to two years of age, nutritious, regular and diverse meals and snacks with lots of fruit and vegetables, the avoidance of processed and packaged foods, and sufficient water intake.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Covid-19 has impacted the way families eat, especially during the lockdown period.
The development of a strong immune system in children through the consumption of healthy food is crucial to fend off health risks.
The World Food Programme and UNICEF are warning of a silent hunger pandemic that may drive an additional 130 million people globally into severe hunger due to the fallout from Covid-19.
Families who are already poor or on the brink of poverty, and whose nutrition status is often concerning, are at the forefront of this danger. Children, because of their dependency on others for food and care, must be the focus in times of a global pandemic when everyone is impacted.
The Global Hunger Index 2019 places Laos in the serious category, at 87 out of 117 qualifying countries. Although the country has made significant progress in all its nutrition markers, much work remains to be done.
In Laos, more than half of children under six months are not exclusively breastfed, and more than two-thirds of children under two years of age are not meeting the minimum dietary standards in terms of meal frequency, quality and diversity.
One in three children between the ages of six months and five years is likely to be impaired in growth, with reduced learning capacities and cognitive abilities, leading to reduced life potential. In some provinces, the rate goes above the 50 per cent mark.
The national wasting level hovers around nine per cent, and signals insufficient food intake or severe illness.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK