Stunting in children down, wasting remains an issue

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A grandmother feeds her grandson in Kratie province in May. Hong Menea

The prevalence of stunting in children decreased from 32 per cent in 2014 to 22 per cent in 2021–22, although the percentages of children identified as wasted or underweight had changed little, according to the just released 2021–22 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey.

“The status of Cambodia children under the age of 5 – according to the three anthropometric indices – is that 22 per cent are stunted, 10 per cent are wasted, and 16 per cent are underweight,” said the report.

When compared to the equivalent 2014 survey, whilst the prevalence of stunting had decreased ten percentage points, wasting still affected ten per cent of children. The percentage of children described as underweight had changed from 24 to 16. Just four per cent of children were overweight.

The report explained that anthropometry is commonly used to measure children’s nutritional status, and serves as growth indicators.

Chea Samnang, co-chair of the WASH and Nutrition Sub-Working Group at the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said the problems of stunting and wasting were usually caused by poor access to clean water and sanitation.

He said 29 per cent of rural households practised open defecation, which including throwing the faeces of babies and infants. Many had no access to a clean water supply or sufficient washing facilities.

Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of the NGO Helen Keller International in Cambodia, said that he was pleased to discover the prevalence of stunting of children had decreased,

“The factors behind the decrease may be improved diets, good hygiene practices, access to health services or behavioural changes,” he said.

Kroeun added that good hygiene helps prevent contagious diseases, which can cause malnutrition. This in turn prevents children’s bodies from absorbing nutrients, increasing the chances of growth deficiencies.

While hailing the decrease in stunting, he was disappointed at a decline in exclusive breastfeeding of children up to six months.

According to the report exclusive breastfeeding among children age 0−5 months rose from just 11 per cent in 2000 to a peak of 74 per cent in 2010, but has subsequently declined to just 51 per cent.

Sok Am Ath, a 39-year-old mother of four from Tbong Khmum said that she had breastfed all four of her sons from birth to two years of age.

“Breastfeeding is great. It helps children’s brains and bodies develop to their full potential and builds their immune systems. It also reduces the rate of breast cancer, forms a close bond between mother and child and saves money that would be spent on formula,” she said.

Cambodia has committed to increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for babies and infants aged from 0-6 months to 85 per cent by 2030.