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Poor Nutrition Costing Cambodia Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

Students at En Komar Primary School in Kampong Thom province have receive breakfast on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The breakfasts are part of a World Food Program initiative that aims to feed 3.5 million students by 2016.

Despite a decline in stunted growth and poor nourishment for children, malnutrition costs the Cambodian economy $400 million a year, health authorities say.

In a two-day conference held this week by the World Food Program, Unicef and the Cambodian government, officials discussed the costs of malnutrition, stunted growth, anemia and other maladies for Cambodian children.

Both mental and physical health are affected by these, officials said at the conference. Maternal and child malnutrition cost the country nearly $90 million a year. Stunted growth and anemia cost the country nearly $130 million.

Ngy Chanphal, vice chairman of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said these and other malnutrition woes damage Cambodia’s economy. “This is a very serious issue,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, our national income loses 2.5 percent of the GDP.”

It affects some 6,000 children per year, children who are the future of the labor force 10 or 20 years from now, he said. Studies from the council show the rate of stunted growth declining over the past decades, but acute malnutrition and rates of anemia have remained unchanged.

Julie Chung, deputy chief of mission for the US Embassy in Cambodia, said malnutrition is a complicated issue that requires the private sector and government to work closely together, to deliver services such as clean water and access to proper nutrition.

Results may not be immediate, but they are important, she said. “Investment in children under two and in nutrition are investments in the health of a nation."