With research indicating more Thai children will be overweight, shorter and have a lower IQ in the next decade, academics are urging society to prevent kids from growing up with low potential.
Citing the increasing problem of malnutrition in Thai children as alarming, the South East Asia Nutrition Survey (SEANUTS) research – supported by Foremost milk manufacturer FrieslandCampina – revealed that the main reason for this was a lack of exercise and insufficient nutrients. Hence, children should exercise regularly, eat healthy and drink milk daily.
The research – conducted in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam – has been in progress for three years. Phase two started in 2013 and is due to finish next year.
The Thailand survey in 2011 and 2012 involved 3,119 samplings aged 0.5-12.9 and was supervised by Mahidol University’s (MU) Institute of Nutrition.
It was found that obese children aged three to six might also be overweight between the ages of six to 12.
Anaemia occurs twice as much in rural children than urban children while 30-40 per cent of the sampling had vitamin D deficiency.
Malnutrition came from receiving insufficient nutrients necessary for growth such as vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, iodine and calcium since the infant stage.
If the issue remains unchecked, it will lead to unhealthy characteristics in the population over the next decade that will become a national problem.
It is the government sector’s responsibility to focus on the problem as well as implementing preventive measures to solve the problem, the study said.
Nutritionist and SEANUTS’s principal investigator, Dr Nipa Rojroongwasinkul, said the issue of insufficient nutrition needed to be resolved through collaboration between family and state policy. Many parents lacked knowledge about nutrition.
Women require sufficient iron and iodine during their pregnancy, she said, adding failure to do so could affect a child’s IQ.
Latest research showed that the average IQ for Thai children was 90-92, when it should be over 100 according to normal standards, she added.
MU Nutrition Physiology head Dr Kallaya Kijboonchoo said besides eating five food groups and getting enough sleep, Children aged six to 12 should play sports daily that required running and jumping such as basketball, which would improve bone flexibility and lead to a person being taller.
She urged parents to have them drink milk daily and since calcium could be absorbed better with the help of vitamin D, kids should play outdoors.
As the survey found both urban and rural children had vitamin D, vitamin A, iron and calcium deficiencies, she said families should urge kids to exercise and play sport.
“Don’t let them stay in the house glued to electronic screens. These bad habits will lead to eating out of proportion, not eating on time and eating low-quality food,” she added.
The Department of Health’s Bureau of Nutrition specialist Sa-nga Damapong said the government sector was concerned about childhood obesity.
He said the Thai National Health Examination survey showed that 5.8 per cent of the population between the ages of two and five was obese in 1997 compared to 7.9 per cent in 2001, while obesity in children aged six to 12 had risen from 5.8 per cent to 6.7 per cent in 2010. Both age groups have increased rates of obesity of 8.5 per cent and 8.7 per cent respectively.
Sa-nga said the government sector had projects to prevent child malnutrition such as the Public Health Ministry’s project to reduce the consumption of sugary, fatty and salty food.
This project, initiated in 2013, aims to end bad eating habits and add more servings of vegetables and fruits, while also raising parents’ and children’s awareness of unhealthy diet dangers, he said.
Furthermore, he said the ministry also promoted the intake of more iron and iodine for pregnant women to promote IQ and brain development in children.