Prime Minister Hun Sen has urged strengthening the food safety and quality control system in Cambodia to enable healthy diets which he said are vital to human capital development.

The call came as the Kingdom prepares to mark the 7th National Nutrition Day, which falls on November 6.

The prime minister also called on the food sector to change how they process food and do business and enable people to maintain healthy diets in the wake of food chain disruptions caused by Covid-19 and severe flooding.

This year’s National Nutrition Day will be celebrated under the theme Strengthening the Food System for a Healthy Diet.

He said National Nutrition Day is marked every year with the purpose of educating the public and raising awareness about the importance of food security and nutrition across the country. The day, he added, also contributes to developing human capital, increasing work effectiveness, stimulating economic growth and promoting social progress.

He said improving food security and nutrition will require increasing investments in the sectors of agriculture, health, education, rural development, clean water and sanitation, and social protection.

“Cambodia’s socio-economic development has brought about changes in people’s lifestyles and in their attitudes around eating and food. These changes have a positive influence on the nutrition of the people,” he said.

While the government has turned its attention to malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and a declining rate of breastfeeding, which are major health risks facing the Kingdom, Hun Sen pointed out that obesity and weight problems have also seen an uptick.

“A poor diet and insufficient exercise is risky and can lead to public health problems. Immune systems are weakened against all kinds of diseases. Eating foods that are high in energy, fat, sugar or salt and not eating vegetables and fruit is the main factor contributing to various infectious diseases,” he said.

To help alleviate these problems, the government launched a social protection programme to hand out cash to pregnant women, children under the age of two and poor and vulnerable families during the pandemic.

The Council for Agricultural and Rural Development also established the 2nd National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition 2019-2023, the prime minister said.

Rudina Vojvoda, the chief of communication for UNICEF Cambodia, hailed the call by Hun Sen, saying Covid-19 is having a severe secondary impact on nutrition caused by families’ economic hardships.

Global experts predicted that even in conservative scenarios, the Covid-19 impact could increase wasting (children far underweight for their height) prevalence of children under 5 by 14.3 per cent in low- and low middle-income countries like Cambodia.

Vojvoda said: “Safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets should be a cornerstone of the country’s Covid-19 response and recovery. Better nutrition leads to better resilience during emergency situations, including Covid-19 and flood-related emergencies.

“More so in Cambodia, there is a need to prioritise and expand the preventative and treatment interventions for undernutrition.”

She said ensuring proper nutrition for the first two years of a child’s life – what is commonly referred to as the first 1,000 days – was of the utmost importance.

Evidence shows that investing in the first 1,000 days is one of the best investments any country can make to improve the health, nutrition and cognitive and overall development of children.

“UNICEF is committed to working closely with the RGC [Royal Government of Cambodia] and other partners to strengthen the nutrition system and make sure that every child has access to healthy and nutritious food,” she said.