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Rising food prices seem to have affected nutrition and health status of Cambodian children

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Initial data of the Cambodian Anthropometric Survey (CAS) were presented and discussed during a meeting on Tuesday this week in NIS. The survey which was carried out by NIS with assistance from UNICEF in November last year in order to follow up the impact of high food prices on nutrition and health of children under five collected nationwide representative data from 7495 households. The survey result showed a slight increase in acute malnutrition (wasting) of children under five with a rate of 8.9% by end of 2008 compared to 8.4% in 2005. Although this result is not statistically significant it is obvious that the trend in improvement of malnutrition has somehow halted (according to the trend based on previous CDHS data sets, even a decrease of acute malnutrition from 8,4 to 6,4% could have been expected for 2008). For some social groups acute malnutrition rates are at an alarming high level (e.g. among poor urban children under five a wasting rate of 15.9% was reported compared to 9.6% in 2005) and for several Provinces acute child malnutrition is with a rate of more than 10% critical.

The composition of food consumption showed that in November 2008 children ate significantly less high quality but expensive food items like meat, fish and vitamin rich vegetables than in 2005. In addition, the rate of infectious diseases (e.g. diarrhea, acute respiratory infections) was significantly higher in 2008 than in 2005 and it can be assumed that the "malnutrition-infection cycle" of children under 5 was worsening against the background of the food price crisis. High acute malnutrition was specifically reported for children in the older age groups (24 to 59 months) as probably improvements in maternal nutrition (which were confirmed by the survey data) and increased breast feeding give children a better start after birth, but this improvement in the nutritional status is not carrying on.

Further on the CAS survey confirmed some of the findings from the survey on "impact of high food prices in Cambodia" carried out by CDRI in June 2008. As it could be expected, negative strategies of households to cope with high food prices (purchase of food on credit, selling productive assets, reduced expenditures for health care etc.) increased significantly towards the end of the lean season.

There were a number of preliminary conclusions presented and further implications for "crisis response" discussed among participants; however theses must be confirmed after the final analysis of the data and crosschecking with other information sources and views:

• Primary target group for nutritional interventions are 6 to 24 month old children (as under nutrition has the most severe and livelong impact when it occurs in the first two years); however, also the worsening nutrition status of older children must be addressed in future;
• Short term distribution of stable foods (rice) alone is not likely to brake the malnutrition-infection cycle (and braking this cycle needs to be a focus);
• Poor urban areas have been most serious affected by high food prices and needs specific attention;
• The overall situation needs to be more closely monitored and incidence data from the local level would be needed to screen severe cases of malnutrition for immediate action.

Participants further agreed that although food prices dropped it is not certain that they will reach the pre-crisis level and the high price volatility of the last year has affect both - consumers and producers - of food. Further on it is likely that the purchasing power of poor will be in 2009 increasingly affected by the impact of the global economic crisis on employment opportunities and incomes (the crisis will also affect rural area as a significant part of employees in the garment, construction and tourism industries were migrating from the rural areas and are supporting their rural families with parts of the income). It is therefore important to use the information of the CAS to design appropriate strategies and program intervention to counteract and mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on child nutrition. A good nutritional status of children is beside good education a key for human capital and the future of Cambodia.

NIS will carry out further analysis on the data including analysis of anthropometrics by socio-economic groups, infant and young child feeding indicators and analysis of the data of the CAS for "informal urban settlements".

Source institution:

Council for Agricultural and Rural Development

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