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Hidden Hunger A Silent Threat To Malaysians

 Unbeknownst to many Malaysians, micronutrient deficiencies, also known as ‘hidden hunger’ pose a significant health burden, with one in three Malaysian families potentially suffering from a lack of iron, calcium, vitamins C and D in everyday diets. Close to one-third of Malaysian children below the age of 12 do not achieve the recommended vitamin D and calcium intakes. In addition, up to two-thirds of Malaysian adults are vitamin D deficient. 

Beyond Malaysia, ‘hidden hunger’ is a global health concern that affects more than two billion people, and at least half of them are children under five years of age worldwide. Often going unnoticed, this ‘hidden hunger’ frequently culminates in detrimental health consequences, including stunted growth, poor cognitive and physical development, as well as a weakened immune system. 

Given the adverse effects of micronutrient deficiencies, which may even cause long-term impacts on health, this condition has the potential to curtail socio-economic development, particularly among low-income communities that often have less access to nutritious food.

Council Member of Nutrition Society of Malaysia  and  Nutritionist & Senior Lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, Dr. Amutha Ramadas said, “Micronutrient deficiencies are a significant threat to our aspirations of developing a healthier Malaysia. While micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are only needed in small quantities, they are essential building blocks vital to growth, development and wellbeing. Many Malaysians are unaware that they lack these important micronutrients. Thus, nutrition education represents an important step toward closing these nutritional gaps. With the right knowledge in hand, Malaysians will be able to choose a healthy and balanced diet that is nutritionally complete.”

“To this end, it is essential to incorporate a variety of foods from all food groups as per the Malaysian Food Pyramid in daily diets, particularly wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, in order for people to achieve their micronutrient needs. For example, milk is an important part of a balanced diet, as it contains vitamins D and B12, calcium, zinc and magnesium, which can help address some of the micronutrient deficiencies prevalent among Malaysian families. The micronutrients contained in milk provide important health benefits – calcium is important for building strong bones and teeth;  vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body, thereby helping to build and maintain strong bones; magnesium is involved in many enzyme systems that regulate various biochemical reactions in our body such as muscle and nerve function; zinc supports healthy growth and immune systems, and vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in red blood cell production. Milk is also naturally a good source of protein which is essential for growth and development. ”

“However, several studies have indicated that Malaysians do not consume enough milk and milk products. The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommend daily consumption of two servings of milk and milk products for adults, and up to three servings for children. Some examples of one serving of dairy foods are:  a glass of milk, a cup of yoghurt or a slice of cheese. Some types of milk are fortified with micronutrients such as Iron and Vitamin C. Iron is important as it’s a component of red blood cells which help to carry oxygen to all parts of the body whereas Vitamin C is required to make collagen which is a component of connective tissues which are needed for wound healing as well as support our immune function. Together with a healthy and balanced diet, daily consumption of milk can certainly help families meet their daily micronutrient needs,” added Dr Amutha. 

The Nutrition Society of Malaysia aims to raise awareness on healthier dietary habits to support good health and nutrition amongst Malaysian families by shedding light on the threat posed by hidden hunger.