Addressing malnutrition among children of public housing community

LETTERS: Food prices are rising, and while most of us think of what a cart-load at the local grocery is going to cost us, it exposes structural vulnerabilities that intensify malnutrition among children, especially among the B40 community.

Malnutrition includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, obesity, and resulting diet-related non-communicable diseases.

Malnutrition rates in Malaysia are a great concern because the effects are reflected in lower educational attainment and poorer health throughout life. In turn people will have higher healthcare costs and lower-level jobs, perpetuating poverty into the next generation.

Malaysia's malnurition rates are high in comparison with other countries of similar development levels and are rising.

In Malaysia, 20.7 per cent of children under five suffer from stunting, 11.5 per cent from wasting, and 12.7 per cent of children between the ages of 5 and 19 are obese.

These figures are the same as 30 years ago and gains that have been made have been lost again.

Almost 65 per cent of people living in public and private low-cost strata housing schemes (PPR), or 1.76 million, are in the Klang Valley. This translates to almost 25 per cent of the Klang Valley population.

The low-income earning families living in these strata flats are daily wage earners and predominantly single mothers. Many of these households live meal by meal, making ends meet where they can and sacrificing a more nutritious diet.

Various universal initiatives have been introduced to PPR communities like breakfast and food programmes to ensure meal intakes. Traditional interventions have focused on food aid distribution to residents or specific groups of residents. Other intervention programmes seek to improve healthy eating behaviour and increase nutrition literacy.

Some newer pilot programmes take a family approach to look at increasing knowledge, skills, and access to food, with some creatively using gamification to engage and incentivise participants via reward points in exchange for food vouchers.

What families eat is influenced by many factors. A key component is what people can afford to buy, but also cultural eating habits, reluctance to try new food, knowing how to cook, availability of refrigeration in the home, knowing what is healthy to eat and viewing it as important, and having the opportunity to grow fresh food or having local access to shops selling unprocessed foods.

Sufficient income and education are critical factors in fighting malnutrition. Malnutrition is not just a health issue. Fighting malnutrition in B40 communities focusing on a combination of structural, individual and environmental factors can have other positive co-benefits.

However, built environment factors should be considered equally. At housing scheme level:

EFFECTIVE waste management with safe and clean playgrounds contributes to reducing malnutrition.

COMMUNITY gardens provide fresh food and gardening together builds social cohesion.

AN urban farm on public land may not just provide fresh food, but can employ residents and provide an income.

COMMUNAL kitchens with large fridges can help women micropreneurs build their business and can be used for cooking training or meal sharing.

Identifying these co-benefits and working across sectors will more likely tackle the complex issue of malnutrition in the B40 community living in low-cost public housing.

Think City has set up a Public Housing Partnership to facilitate such cross-sector communication, action and advocacy harnessing co-benefits across social, economic and environmental domains.

This and more will be discussed at the Rights to the City programme, a collaborative platform by Think City and Citi Foundation. Scheduled to take place today, the programme aims to advocate to better public housing liveability.


Managing Director, Think City

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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