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.”


Vaping-related lung transplant performed at Detroit hospital

Updated 12 November 2019

Vaping-related lung transplant performed at Detroit hospital

  • ‘The first double lung transplant in the world for a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping’
  • More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teenagers and young adults

DETROIT: Doctors at a Detroit hospital have performed what could be the first double lung transplant on a man whose lungs were damaged from vaping.
No other details of the transplant were released Monday by Henry Ford Health System, which has scheduled a news conference Tuesday. The patient has asked his medical team to share photographs and an update to warn others about vaping.
The team of medical experts that performed the procedure believes it is “the first double lung transplant in the world for a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping,” the health system said in a news release Monday.
“It would be nice if it’s the last — if the epidemic of acute lung injury can be brought under control,” said Dr. David Christiani at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Christiani said he’s not sure if the number of double lung transplants due to vaping illnesses will increase. He said factors include the availability of donor lungs and the chronic effects of illnesses from vaping that could lead to other types of conditions.
More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teenagers and young adults, and at least 40 people have died.
“We’ve certainly seen people who are very sick with this,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City. “I’m not aware (of any other double lung transplants) and 100 percent certain none of the patients in our system have had a lung transplant from e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury.”
Christiani and Blagev were not involved in the Detroit transplant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced a breakthrough into the cause of a vaping illness outbreak, identifying the chemical compound vitamin E acetate as a “very strong culprit” after finding it in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients. Vitamin E acetate previously was found in liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many who got sick and only recently has been used as a vaping fluid thickener.
Many who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing part of marijuana, with many saying they received them from friends or bought them on the black market.
E-cigarettes and other vaping devices heat a liquid into an inhalable vapor. Most products contained nicotine, but THC vaping has been growing more common.
Some states have enacted bans or are considering bans on some vaping products.
Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency ban on vaping products in September in response to the lung illnesses.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also in September ordered the issuance of emergency rules banning flavored electronic cigarettes after her chief medical executive found that youth vaping is a public health emergency. Whitmer has accused the makers of using candy flavors and deceptive ads to hook children.
A Michigan Court of Claims judge last month issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the state’s ban.
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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed from Seattle.