Why must 15 percent of Malaysians think twice when it comes to having their three main meals of the day?

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The conundrum surrounding Malaysians and food is bewildering: one on hand, the country has gained notoriety as being the fattest in Southeast Asia, with a report detailing that only a third of Malaysian adults had ever exercised.

On the other, a big number of Malaysians, some 15 percent according to a study, are forced to skip meals to make ends meet.

Then there is the chronic problem of Malaysia’s struggle with food wastage, so much so that the amount of avoidable food waste generated by Malaysians in just 18 days can go on to choke the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

“About 8000 tonnes, nearly 60 percent of waste that is being generated, is avoidable food waste,” Mohd Pauze Mohamed Taha, Deputy CEO (Technical) SWCorp had said in June this year.

It is bemusing that of the 8,000 tonnes, 3,000 tonnes of food going to landfills daily is edible – food that could have fed around two million people.

While people back home continue to revel in both eating and wasting food, comes the uncanny bombshell revelation that more than a quarter of children aged one to two in Putrajaya are stunted.

The disturbing fact comes from the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2016, which found that 28% of children aged 12 to 23 months in the administrative capital suffer from stunting, or less than normal height growth.

This bizarre scenario has nothing to do with disease but all to do with chronic undernutrition.

It is alarming that the existence of stunted growth in Putrajaya is just 2% away from being called a health emergency by the World Health Organisation.

In June, Malaysia’s first voluntary national review of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, presented to the UN General Assembly in New York revealed that nationally, 20.7% of children under the age of five are stunted.

The review concomitantly found that 24.9%, or nearly one in four, children in Malaysia experienced moderate or severe food insecurity due to financial constraints. In comparison, in the US, one in six children was found to be food insecure in 2015.

A bizarre narrative

An Australian university study funded by Unicef Malaysia and the Malaysian government found that 15% of children live in households with incomes that are less than twice the poverty line income (PLI).

“It is not just about a child being two inches shorter (than the average child), cognitive development is impaired,” says Dr Amjad Rabi, who led the Unicef Malaysia research team in the study then told The Edge Markets.

Amjad was reported to have said that among others, challenges young mothers faced in the workforce played a hand in the high rate of child malnutrition.

“A mother who is going to work may not have enough time to cook nutritious food, so she relies on fast food.”

The mind boggling juxtaposition surrounding food and the disparity that has come to be, is a grave cause for concern and one which demands an organic and not knee-jerk solution.

When tabling the Budget 2017 last year, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced a RM200 hike in the federal government’s annual monetary aid, Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) monetary aid, from RM1,000 to RM1,200 for households earning below RM3,000 per month.

While for households earning between RM3,000 and RM4,000 monthly, the BR1M would be increased from RM800 to RM900. Unmarried individuals earning below RM2,000 monthly would receive RM450.

In February this year, the premier declared that more than eight million Malaysians had to date applied for Putrajaya’s cash aid.

Is BRIM to be blamed for the extravagant attitude adopted by some towards food? And if indeed BRIM is being hailed by the federal government as being the saviour of Malaysians families, why then must 15 percent of Malaysians think twice when it comes to having their three main meals of the day?

That many are pressured to skip one meal a day to save money does underscore the harsh truth that BRIM is not the solution to the financial woes faced by the people back home.

It would be fallacious for the government to paint a rosy picture of BRIM and the wonders it has performed, given that Malaysians are forced to choose between eating and surviving.

The entire narrative concerning food and Malaysians is a strange one – there are those who are reckless, eating too much and throwing away far too much food. And then there are those who stay hungry to get by.

Then there are children who struggle with stunted growth because they lack nutritious food.

All these happening in Malaysia, where its leaders persistently brag about caring and world-class achievements. Why?

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