DPRK National Nutrition Survey
PYONGYANG, 13 December 2012 - “Modest but significant,” was how UNICEF’s representative in the Democratic Republic of Korea, Desiree Jongsma, described the improvements in childhood nutrition revealed by data from a new comprehensive national nutrition survey released by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea last week.
The data was published in a preliminary report on results from a major national nutrition survey conducted in September and October 2012. It shows that stunting has decreased from 32.3 per cent to 27.9 per cent since 2009, while acute malnutrition is down from 5.2 per cent to 4 per cent and the incidence of underweight children is down from 18.8 per cent to 15.5 per cent.
“The slight gains in children’s nutrition in the country are very encouraging and they show that it is possible to improve the lives of children in DPRK,” Jongsma explained. “But more than one in every four children remains stunted, hostage to life-long ill-health and reduced educational and career prospects as a result of a lack of much needed proteins, fruits, vegetables and fats, as well as frequent infections due to a lack of both essential medicines and clean water, as well as poor hygiene. It will take strong involvement from government, donors and international agencies to provide these children with a chance on a healthier future.”
Data from the 2012 survey also reveals that anaemia in women remains a matter of serious concern, with almost one-third of women aged 15 to 49 years affected. About one in four of the women surveyed are also malnourished, and 5 per cent are moderately or severely malnourished.
Stunting, or chronic malnutrition, has an irreversible impact on children’s physical and intellectual development if it is not treated in the first two years of life. To prevent stunting and anaemia in mothers and their children, food and nutrition security, water, hygiene and sanitation, and other endemic social and health-related problems need to be addressed together, not separately.
The survey is an excellent snapshot of the nutritional status of children and women in all 10 provinces surveyed, and provides a solid basis to gauge the situation throughout the country.
The last national survey that provided data on children’s and women’s nutritional status in DPRK was in 2009, while available data on women’s anaemia dated back to 2002.
The 2012 survey looked at the prevalence of acute and chronic malnutrition and anaemia among children less than five years old, documented nutrition-related diseases in these children and provided data on vitamin A supplementation coverage, on breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices. The survey also assessed acute malnutrition, anaemia, micronutrient supplementation coverage, and food diversity in all the mothers of the children surveyed.
The survey found wide variations in stunting between provinces, with approximately 20 per cent of children in Pyongyang being stunted, versus more than 30 per cent of children in the north-eastern provinces.
“As a result of the data released in the preliminary report, we know that more assistance is needed, and that it must be more equitably distributed,” said Jongsma. “This new data shows that, with government action and international support, improvements are possible. The future of these children - and of the country - is dependent on a greater focus on childhood nutrition and on the availability of funds to provide these children with what they so desperately need.”
UNICEF was involved in every step of the survey, including its design, training data collectors, monitoring the collection of information, and data analysis.
The preliminary report offers a first snapshot of the survey findings. The final report, expected early next year, will contain a fuller analysis of not only the nutrition situation, but also feeding practices of children and women in the various provinces. This will help government, donors and aid agencies better target their assistance to children most in need and at risk.