Indonesian children suffered from the double burden of malnutrition in Indonesia even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The double burden of malnutrition refers to having both overnutrition and undernutrition simultaneously. The “minimum dietary diversity” of Indonesian children ages 12 to 23 months rapidly decreased from 81% in 2018 to 55% in 2022. The double burden of child malnutrition in Indonesia directly impacts a child’s physical and mental development and puts children at high risk of illnesses in the future. Diverse nutrient intake is a crucial aspect of a child’s development, therefore, children in Indonesia need immediate assistance.
Effects of COVID-19 on Undernutrition in Indonesia
The rapid spread of COVID-19 impacted the economic stability of households as businesses shut down and the unemployment rate increased. The socio-economic crisis that households faced at the onset of the pandemic reduced parents’ ability to provide adequate nutritious meals for their children. A household’s income status is directly related to a child’s nutrient intake.
A survey of 2,400 Indonesian households between December 2020 and January 2021 revealed that “at least one member of every two households” faced a job loss. In March 2022, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin reported that 25% of Indonesian children have endured stunting and 10% of Indonesian children suffers malnourishment. Furthermore, an estimated 45% of households could not feed their children nutritious foods, such as fish, meat and fruit, and had to resort to smaller portions of food, increasing the susceptibility to undernutrition.
Overweight and Obesity Rate in Indonesia
The COVID-19 pandemic also increased the number of overweight and obese children in Indonesia. Historically, the childhood obesity rate in Indonesia has been on the rise. Even before the pandemic, according to the 2018 national Basic Health Research Survey (RISKESDAS), about 20% of primary school-aged children and 14% of Indonesian adolescents are obese or overweight.
The COVID-19 pandemic reduced access to healthy food for children. Rather, many households opted for cheaper processed foods, which are generally unhealthy, high in fat, sugar, salt and lack nutrients. Besides the unhealthy food intake, restricted physical activities because of the social distancing put children at a higher risk of becoming overweight. The health risks of being overweight and obese are as severe as undernutrition as these conditions increase the risk of developing life-threatening non-communicable diseases like heart diseases and diabetes.
Response to Malnutrition in Indonesia
In 2022, UNICEF found that more than 75% of Indonesia’s health offices moved their budgets for nutrition services to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift of budgetary focus to addressing the pandemic meant that the government had to divert resources and funding for child nutrition programs.
To strengthen food security and decrease child wasting and stunting by 14% before the onset of 2024, UNICEF provides “technical assistance to the Government of Indonesia.” National efforts to address the prevalence of stunting have been visible since 2020 under the National Mid-Term Development Plan 2020-2024.
In 2015, Indonesia joined the SUN Business Network (SBN), “the world’s leading private sector initiative focused on nutrition.” Within this network, the private sector mobilizes to achieve national nutrition goals “through education and fortified food products.” SBN Indonesia commits to three objectives: “nutrition for the first 1,000 days and adolescence; providing education about, and access to, balanced nutrition; and sanitation, health and hygiene.”
Also, Indonesia is one of the 61 members represented in the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, which started in 2010 as a collaborative effort by countries to end malnutrition in all its forms.
Fighting the double burden of child malnutrition in Indonesia has been a perennial issue for the nation. In 2022, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted the importance of addressing child undernutrition, “Poor nutrition intake in the first two years of life can irreversibly harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains.”
With both national and international efforts, the double burden of child malnutrition in Indonesia can improve.
– Youngwook Chun