High on ease, low on nutrition: instant-noodle diet harms Asian kids

Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest consumer of instant noodles, behind China. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

High on ease, low on nutrition: instant-noodle diet harms Asian kids

  • In the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, an average of 40 percent of children aged five and below are malnourished
  • Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest consumer of instant noodles, behind China

MANILA: A diet heavy on cheap, modern food like instant noodles that fills bellies but lacks key nutrients has left millions of children unhealthily thin or overweight in southeast Asia, experts say.
The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have booming economies and rising standards of living, yet many working parents do not have the time, money or awareness to steer clear of food hurting their kids.
In those three nations, an average of 40 percent of children aged five and below are malnourished, higher than the global average of one-in-three, according to a report out Tuesday from UNICEF, the UN children’s agency.
“Parents believe that filling their children’s stomach is the most important thing. They don’t really think about an adequate intake of protein, calcium or fiber,” Hasbullah Thabrany, a public health expert in Indonesia, said.
UNICEF said the harm done to children is both a symptom of past deprivation and a predictor of future poverty, while iron deficiency impairs a child’s ability to learn and raises a woman’s risk of death during or shortly after childbirth.
To give some sense of scale to the problem, Indonesia had 24.4 million children under five last year, while the Philippines had 11 million and Malaysia 2.6 million, UNICEF data show.
Mueni Mutunga, UNICEF Asia nutrition specialist, traced the trend back to families ditching traditional diets for affordable, accessible and easy-to-prepare “modern” meals.
“Noodles are easy. Noodles are cheap. Noodles are quick and an easy substitute for what should have been a balanced diet,” she said.
The noodles, which cost as little as 23 US cents a packet in Manila, are low on essential nutrients and micronutrients like iron and are also protein-deficient while having high fat and salt content, Mutunga added.
Indonesia was the world’s second-biggest consumer of instant noodles, behind China, with 12.5 billion servings in 2018, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.
The figure is more than the total consumed by India and Japan put together.
Nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, fish and meat are disappearing from diets as the rural population moves to the cities in search of jobs, the UNICEF report said.
Though the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are all considered middle-income countries by World Bank measures, tens of millions of their people struggle to make enough money to live.
“Poverty is the key issue,” said T. Jayabalan, a public health expert in Malaysia, adding that households where both parents work need quickly made meals.
Low-income households in Malaysia depend largely on ready-made noodles, sweet potatoes and soya-based products as their major meals, he said.
Sugar-rich biscuits, beverages and fast food also pose problems in these countries, according to experts.
Rolling back the influence instant noodles have on the daily lives, and health, of people in southeast Asia will likely require government intervention, they said.
“Promotion and advertising is extremely aggressive,” said Thabrany, the Indonesian public health expert.
“There is massive distribution. They (instant noodles) are available everywhere, even in the most remote places.”


Abu Dhabi’s first café run by special needs staff, baristas opens its doors

The new café serves to empower and support those with disabilities. Photo: Shutterstock
Updated 18 November 2019

Abu Dhabi’s first café run by special needs staff, baristas opens its doors

  • The country’s first café run entirely by people with special needs has opened its doors in the UAE
  • Located in Abu Dhabi, Bee Café is part of the “Be the Change” campaign

DUBAI: The country’s first café run entirely by people with special needs has opened its doors in the UAE.

A stone’s throw away from Abu Dhabi’s Mafraq Hospital, Bee Café is part of the “Be the Change” campaign led by the Zayed Higher Organization for People of Determination, and serves to empower and support those with disabilities.

In addition to serving fresh roasted coffee and vegan desserts, the homegrown artisan coffee shop also offers specialized training to its staff to ensure that they obtain practical skills in addition to international certificates in the specialty coffee industry whilst improving their welfare by inviting them to provide for themselves and their families through brewing exceptional-quality coffee.  

The “Be the Change” campaign, launched earlier this year, is aimed at changing attitudes toward people with special needs while raising awareness and helping them integrate into the work force.

The café, which is currently in its soft launch phase, boasts a slick and modern interior for enjoying a soothing cup of coffee, in addition to WiFi for those who want to work or study in a cozy, airy space. It is open on weekdays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.