Children, Food and Nutrition: State of the World's Children 2019

A look at child malnutrition in Malaysia and beyond

two children eating rice

Malaysia's double burden

Food is a point of pride in Malaysia. We boast having the best cuisine the world over. Even love as an expression is best shown through the iconic greeting, "Sudah makan?" (have you eaten?). Yet, despite this pride in food culture - there are children in Malaysia who are still not getting the nutrition they need. Malaysia faces the threat of a double burden: stunting, and obesity. This is usually caused by children not eating the right food or enough of the right foods.

In Malaysia, 20.7 per cent of children under five suffer from stunting and 11.5 per cent from wasting, 12.7 per cent of children (5–19-year-olds) are obese.



triple burden graphic

There are many reasons why this happens. The changing food environment such as where and how we get our food combined with growing market forces such as advertising and food trends have all affected the kind of food we eat. But it cannot be denied that for many countries, including Malaysia, poverty adversely impacts the food choices of children. Poor urban areas in Malaysia record higher percentages of malnourished children than the national average indicates. 

This year's State of the World's Children report by UNICEF put the spotlight on the predicament of urban poor families living in KL's low cost apartments to highlight why some children are still malnourished. Whilst these families realise they should be giving their children healthier food - it is often a case of just having any food they can to fill tummies. Read their stories in our photo essay or the full report

[F]ar too many children and young people are eating too little healthy food and too much unhealthy food.

State of the World's Children (2019)

What can be done?

Solving issues related to malnutrition, as with any child right deprivation, will take a multi-sector approach. There is room for governments, the private sector, civil society organisations, and citizens themselves to play a role in making sure our children are growing up healthy.

All systems need to work collectively hand-in-hand. For example:

  • social protection systems
  • food systems
  • education systems
  • health systems
  • water and sanitation system

You can read more about how these systems can work together to solve malnutrition issues from the root cause in the full report.