© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
Malnutrition affects almost half of all Cambodian children under the age of five. It is caused by the inability to afford nutritious food, high rates of infectious disease and inappropriate feeding practices. The consequences of malnutrition are severe: it is one of the top underlying causes of child mortality and morbidity in Cambodia, and its lasting repercussions continue into adulthood, impairing both mental and physical development that results in poor performance in school and limited opportunities for work later in life.
Malnutrition’s visible impact can be seen across the country. Roughly 40 per cent of children age five and under are too small for their age and another 28 per cent are underweight. A smaller, though troubling 11 per cent of children are wasted (thin). Cambodian women are equally susceptible to malnutrition, with 20 per cent of women between 15 and 49 considered too thin – a situation that increases risk for complications during birth and leads to low birth weight of their babies.
Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for children in the early stages of life, but not all Cambodian women breastfeed exclusively during the first six months of the baby’s life. Many children older than six months get too little or not the right complementary food because parents lack knowledge or cannot afford nutritious food. Hidden hunger in the form of micronutrient deficiency is an added risk to children. Although the majority of children now receive vitamin A supplements, an increase from 11 per cent in 2000 to 60 per cent in 2010, those who do not receive the supplement face an increased risk of child mortality or blindness. Meanwhile, four out of five children and almost half of women of reproductive age are anaemic. Deficiencies of iron, zinc and calcium are among the top public health concerns in the country.
With a growing number of families using iodized salt, Cambodia has enjoyed major achievements in reducing iodine deficiency disorder, which can impair foetal brain development.
Although local salt producers have agreed to take on the cost of iodization, close monitoring is required to ensure that the private sector continues quality salt iodization.
While the international evidence base provides a range of costeffective nutrition interventions, many of these are yet to be implemented in Cambodia, including a system of cash transfers to poor families that are shown to reduce poverty and improve nutrition outcomes. Community-based treatment for child malnutrition is recommended, but in Cambodia treatment is only available in hospital. A national system for the identification of poor households exists, but these families do not receive direct financial assistance. Meanwhile, nutrition interventions that have been mainstreamed into the government health system need to be monitored to ensure quality.
UNICEF works closely with the government to combat hunger and minimize the negative consequences of malnutrition on children.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
What we do
- Design and support the implementation of targeted behaviour change communication strategies that promote early and exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding behaviours.
- Continue support of the Food Security and Nutrition Information Management System through analysis of administrative statistics and household surveys.
- Ensure the sustainability of salt iodization by supporting the National Sub-Committee on Food Fortification to continuously monitor salt iodization.
- Address anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies in children and women through multiple micro-nutrient supplementation and fortification.
- Support pilots and operational research on cash transfers and a national system for the identification and treatment of child malnutrition.
- Provide technical assistance to monitoring and supervision activities of the National Nutrition Programme.
An expanding segment of the population, especially women and children, are leading better, healthier lives as a result of improved nutrition. A growing number of women who are exclusively breastfeeding have led to improved nutrition for infants and children, and more children are also receiving complementary feeding at the right age to reinforce their growth.
Between 2000 and 2010, wasting decreased from 16.8 per cent to 10.9 per cent; underweight from 38 per cent to 28.3 per cent; and stunting from 49.7 per cent to 39.9 per cent. The number of families consuming iodized salt has increased, with over 80 per cent of households using iodized salt compared with only 14 per cent in 2000.