Cambodia - Building Public-private partnerships, Malnutrition
The high incidence of child malnutrition in Cambodia is a critical
development challenge. Poor nutrition in the 1,000 days from conception
to the second birthday causes long-term damage to physical and cognitive
development. Functional losses in this period can never be fully recovered.
In addition to impa...
cts on child health and mortality, malnutrition has
adverse health and economic consequences that persist throughout the
individual’s lifetime and can be handed down to harm the next generation.
Chronic poor health and malnutrition stunt the growth of 40% of
Cambodian children. Demographic surveys show 28% of children under
5 years of age underweight in 2005—and no improvement 5 years later.
Indeed, severe malnutrition increased, with the incidence of wasting
among children rising from 8.4% to 10.9% (Figure 3.23.9). The incidence
of anemia was at epidemic proportions, affecting 55% of children under 5
The World Health Organization estimated in 2011 that Cambodia
loses $146 million in GDP each year from the impacts of vitamin
and mineral deficiencies alone. While the full economic impact of
malnutrition in the country has yet to be assessed, international evidence
cited by the United Nations Development Assistance Framework suggests
that a 1% decrease in adult stature translates into a 1.4% decrease in
Risk factors for child malnutrition include poverty (although child
malnutrition also affects higher-income families in Cambodia), lack of
toilets, unsafe water supply, inadequate breast feeding, and poor maternal
nutrition. The 2010 demographic survey found that 57% of Cambodian
households had no toilet and therefore defecated in the open, 26% of
infants under 6 months were not exclusively breastfed, and 44% of women
suffered some degree of anemia.
The good news is that addressing child malnutrition early can avoid
long-term damage to health. Further, the solutions are highly cost-
effective. The 2012 Copenhagen Consensus, a meeting of economists to
establish cost-effective priorities to improve global welfare, found that
fighting malnourishment should be the top priority and that the benefits
in terms of improved health, schooling, and productivity would be significant.
Children under 5 years of age.
Source: Cambodia Demographic and Health Surveys., Asian Development Outlook 2013 -
Child malnutrition can be countered by
• targeting social transfers, fortifying foods, and improving local food production to overcome seasonal food shortages and ensure food supplies of sufficient quantity, quality, and variety;
• promoting breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding practices for young children;
• improving pregnant women’s dietary intake through nutrition education and communication;
• providing to women and children improved basic health services and micronutrient supplementation; and
• reducing nutrient loss through improved hygiene, sanitation, parasite control, and food processing and storage.
The key is to develop mechanisms to scale up existing and future
small-scale pilot initiatives that are designed to address these issues,
thereby converting them into a government-led, integrated package
of interventions for better food security, nutrition, sanitation, and
hygiene. This requires a program with active community participation
and a concerted strategy to change parental behavior that hinders child
nutrition. Malnutrition issues could be addressed under the umbrella
of social protection, for example through cash transfers, or through
innovative public-private partnerships.