China / Society

Rural children face nutrition gap

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-06-01 03:04

Ministry of Health report says kids in countryside have higher risk

A major gap exists between the nutritional status of Chinese children under 5 in rural and urban areas, according to a report issued by the Ministry of Health on Thursday.

Rural children face nutrition gap

The report also said that rural children are at greater risk of malnutrition due to economic strains and unexpected events.

Given that the government has already introduced measures to help improve the nutrition of school-age children, the report focuses mainly on preschoolers, said Qin Huaijin, director of the Department of Maternal and Child Health and Community Health under the ministry.

According to the report, the prevalence of children who were underweight or had stunted growth was three to four times higher in rural than urban areas between 1990 and 2010.

The situation in impoverished rural areas was even worse, it said.

Regionally, children in central and western China were two to three times more likely to suffer malnutrition than children in the east, where the overall economic situation was much better.

"Sometimes, better nutrition points to a higher chance of survival," said Yin Shi'an, a food safety and nutrition researcher at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A report by the World Health Organization said that 22 percent of the deaths of children under 5 in China were attributable to malnutrition in 2000, but that number had fallen to 13 percent by 2010.

A majority of them were in the poor countryside, Yin noted.

"The nutritional status and overall development of rural children whose parents sought employment in cities were especially concerning," he said.

Official statistics showed that China has more than 150 million children under 5 who are left behind in rural hometowns, as their parents are migrant workers.

According to the report, they are 1.5 times more likely to be underweight or face stunted growth than rural children with parents by their sides.

Childhood nutrition can affect lifelong health and "we hope the government would list the improvement of child nutrition as a national strategy and integrate that into the overall national development plan to further enhance the nutrition of the children," urged Qin.

With economic development, government measures like the China Infant and Young Child Feeding Strategies, as well as the promotion of breastfeeding, child nutrition and physical development has greatly improved on the Chinese mainland, he said.

Also, the mortality rate for children under 5 has dropped by 73 percent since 1990, the study showed.

Huo Junsheng, director of the Food Science and Technology Department of China CDC, said the biggest nutrition problem was deficiencies of vitamins A and D, iron, calcium and zinc, which can affect their school performance and future economic productivity if left unaddressed.

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