November 13, 2023
PHNOM PENH – On the occasion of the Kingdom’s 10th National Nutrition Day, a report detailing strategies to enrich Cambodian diets and fight malnutrition has been released.
The analysis was compiled by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), supported by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
It highlights significant advancements in improving access to healthy foods, yet acknowledges that current dietary habits contribute to deficiencies and elevate the risk of chronic diseases, resulting in an economic cost of $1.5 billion annually – equivalent to 6.6 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
WFP country director Claire Conan commented on the report’s objective to guide national strategies and initiatives aimed at enhancing diets, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.
“We believe that the Fill the Nutrient Gap [initiative] offers a common narrative for change – a piece of evidence to inform our decisions. Cambodia’s progress and ambitious goals depend on our ability to address these pressing issues and identify win-win solutions for both nutrition and climate change,” she said.
The findings disclose a concerning trend where nearly 80 per cent of the caloric intake in the country is derived from rice and sugar, with a lack of nutrient-rich foods.
This is further corroborated by data from the Cambodia Demographic Health Survey 2021-22 (CDHS 2021-22), indicating that only 42 per cent of children aged 6-23 months receive an adequate diet.
UNICEF country representative Will Parks said good nourishment forms the cornerstone of child survival, growth and development.
He noted that well-nourished children, provided with quality foods, can learn and contribute to their communities more effectively and display greater resilience against illness.
“Children require good nutrition and care, at the very start of life and throughout their lives, to reach their full potential. We want all people in Cambodia to consume and benefit from healthy… diets, making sure that the most vulnerable are not left behind,” he said.
CARD secretary-general Sok Silo acknowledged that despite ongoing challenges such as persistent child wasting, extensive micronutrient deficiencies and nourishment disparities, the government is committed to prioritising the strengthening of food systems to tackle these issues.
“The Pentagonal Strategy, which emphasises the importance of social protection, universal healthcare and climate change adaptation and mitigation, has led to impressive advancements in maternal and child health and nutrition that are a source of pride,” he said.
“Exceptional progress has indeed been made in Cambodia but improving the nutrition situation is critical to sustain this progress. The findings highlight that Cambodia’s ambitious goal of achieving upper-middle income status by 2030 depends on an improvement in the nutrition situation,” the press release stated.
The report proposes a suite of targeted interventions to enhance family diets and build resilience against climate change.
The suggestions are tailored to the requirements of various demographic groups including breastfed infants (12–23 months), school-age children (6-7 years), adolescent girls (14-15 years), breastfeeding mothers and adult men.
The advised interventions include food fortification, social cash transfers, school feeding programmes – encouraging healthy eating behaviours across all segments of the population – and the regulation of unhealthy and ultra-processed food and drink products.
The report also indicated that 16 per cent of Cambodian households are unable to afford a nutritious diet, underscoring the critical role of social assistance programmes in preventing further familial economic decline.
“At the same time, ultra-processed foods and snacks high in salt, fat and sugar are widely available, affordable and popularised through heavy marketing and commercial campaigns, exposing young people to unhealthy habits and diets,” the report said.