The Ministry of Health will beef up its campaign on behaviour changes in the area of nutrition for mothers, babies and children, as 14 per cent of women at reproductive age are underweight while another 45 per cent are anaemic.

Ministry secretary of state Prak Sophorneary gave these figures while speaking at the launch of the three-day Youth Nutrition Champion training programme on basic nutrition, healthy diet, food safety, food fortification and food labelling, which ended on January 19.

The training programme was co-organised by Helen Keller International-Cambodia (HKI); Multi-Sectoral Food and Nutrition Security Project (MUSEFO); the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD); National Nutrition Programme (NNP); Department of Drugs and Food Safety (DDF); Department of Nutrition Improvement under the Ministry of Planning; and Mount Saint Vincent University of Canada.

She said that based on a recent demographic study, 14 per cent of girls at reproductive age are underweight while 45 per cent are anaemic. At the same time, however, 18 per cent are now overweight.

“In terms of which micronutrients they lack, we see that 62 per cent of women lack zinc. The lack of folic acid is also still a problem with 18 per cent of women. Lack of vitamin D is at moderate levels and is also a problem for 31 per cent of women,” she said, citing the study.

She said that 78 per cent of women and 66 per cent of children lack iodine in their urine when it has been tested and many women were also found to lack vitamin B1.

“Many women at reproductive health in Cambodia have a lifestyle of eating foods which lack nutrition, before and during pregnancy and during their breastfeeding.

“The ministry will campaign to promote education on dietary needs during pregnancy and other education on basic health requirements in the community. We will follow up on their understanding of children’s dietary needs and provide them with micronutrients,” she said.

Sophorneary said scientists have found that when children lack nutrition, they are undersized and do not do well in school and tend to repeat grades more often, leading to a reduction on average of 22 per cent in their earned income when they become adults.

“Studies show that children that are sick often suffer from malnutrition and their families have to spend 20 per cent of their income for treatments and this leads to an impact on the income of the family and the country as a whole,” she said.