Every day families welcome new life into the world. New parents and caregivers want to ensure each child gets the best start but the most basic of needs, proper nutrition, is not equitably accessible. This has devastating effects.
Nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of 5 in the East Asia and Pacific region can be attributed to undernutrition, according to UNICEF.
Proper nutrition is paramount to survival and good health after birth, but an adequate diet is also one of the key factors to a healthy pregnancy.
Nutrition is a critical issue now as the Covid-19 pandemic affects the food supply and food security for many people around the globe. Ending hunger and improving nutrition are two pillars supporting greater maternal and child health at the community, country and regional levels.
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are incredibly important to their growth and development and the clock starts ticking during a woman’s pregnancy. Ensuring women have access to adequate nutrition helps them lead healthy, full lives while benefiting women who want to have healthy babies.
One way to support healthier women during their pregnancies is to prevent gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) or reduce its prevalence in Southeast Asia. GDM occurs when diabetes is first diagnosed during pregnancy, typically after the first 24 weeks. GDM puts women at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are incredibly important to their growth and development and the clock starts ticking during a woman’s pregnancy
Researchers writing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition address the prevalence of GDM in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam and identify nutritional and other regional risk factors for GDM. While it can be difficult to propose solutions resonating across different cultures and languages, the authors provide recommendations for improving maternal health.
Adopting universal screening methods and diagnostic criteria for GDM should be implemented. Additionally, individual countries should establish data collection and common practices to allow epidemiological data tracking throughout Southeast Asia on the prevalence of GDM and its predisposing factors.
Implementing this data collection would also allow studies to be conducted to find trends and long-term health impacts of GDM at the country and regional levels, which can inform healthcare practitioners supporting women and healthy pregnancies.
Finally, conducting local research will help identify best practices to confront GDM in specific countries. Not only would this research look at important issues regarding nutritional deficiencies and supplementation during pregnancy, but the information could provide insights regarding effective, culturally appropriate education and communication strategies about preventing and managing this condition.
Together with UNICEF, the World Health Organization published a set of recommendations for infant and young child feeding. These are helpful for promoting best feeding practices, while aiding data collection to monitor nutrition and health information in individual countries.
Researchers across the region can access and publish articles on topics from addressing levels of adequate nutrition in young children’s diets to looking at thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency in women and children.
In Malaysia, this study showed infants and toddlers in urban areas generally achieved the recommended amounts of protein and iron in their diets. However, they did not get the recommended amount of calcium, energy and micronutrients. Analyses like this highlight how parents, caregivers and healthcare professionals can encourage diets that fill nutritional gaps in a young child’s life for improved physical and mental development.
Studies on nutrition can help address concerns like beriberi, a public health issue in Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia. Beriberi negatively impacts the nervous, digestive and circulatory systems and can be fatal. Since the disease arises from thiamine deficiency, researchers assessed the status of this vitamin among women and their young children in Cambodia.
collective efforts of professionals from nutritionists and healthcare providers to those working in the food industry can have a tremendous public benefit for future generations of women
The researchers found 27% of mothers and 15% of children in Cambodia were thiamine deficient. Important studies like this point to an urgent need to improve food security and ensure access to vitamin- and nutrient-rich foods. In this case, many people require greater access to thiamine-rich foods, including whole grains, cereals, meat and fish.
World leaders, experts, scientists and members of civil society came together for the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September, marking an opportune moment to address the inadequate nutrition plaguing many communities. The International Life Sciences Institute’s Southeast Asia Region is among the many groups and individuals playing a role to help attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
We all must recommit our efforts to end hunger and improve nutrition. The collective efforts of professionals from nutritionists and healthcare providers to those working in the food industry can have a tremendous public benefit for future generations of women who deserve healthy pregnancies.
Stéphane Vidry is the Global Executive Director and Boon Yee Yeong is the Southeast Asia Region Executive Director of the International Life Sciences Institute.