Childhood Malnutrition in China Causes Significant Economic Losses

October 27, 2011 9:26 am Last Updated: October 27, 2011 9:46 am

“Breakfast: nothing; Lunch: rice or polenta, salt water soaked soy beans; Dinner: rice or polenta, salt water soaked soy beans.” This is not a recipe for losing weight, but the daily menu of children from poverty stricken-areas in western China. According to a state report, the loss to China’s economy due to malnutrition in children amounted to 4 percent of GDP.

In an Oct. 10 report of China Economic Weekly, Ma Guansheng from the National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety (NINFS) said: “China now has about 290 million children between the ages 0 to 14, among which 15 million are below the poverty line. 12 to 36 percent of these kids are underweight compared to the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Their growth rate is 6 times less than that of metropolitan kids. The Vitamin A deficiency is 4 times that of metropolitan kids.”

Ma Guansheng told China Economic Weekly that malnutrition results in slow growth, iodine deficiency, and anemia in children, which leads to loss of productivity. In 2001, the loss of productivity from slow growth was estimated to be 16.6 billion yuan, from iodine deficiency 19.8 billion yuan, from adult anemia 65.8 billion yuan, and from childhood anemia 259.9 billion yuan. The combined total loss to economy was 362.1 billion yuan (US$56.7 billion) or 4.01 percent of GDP.

Ma estimated that in 2010 China’s GDP was 40.1 trillion yuan, and the loss due malnutrition was 1.6 trillion yuan (US$252 billion).

Liu Wenkui, Deputy General Secretary of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, told Sound of Hope Radio on Oct. 16 that a lot of elementary school-age kids in western China suffer from malnutrition. They only have potato, polenta, rice or soy beans to eat.

According to a Xinhua News article of June 22, the kids in Tanglangqing Elementary School in Luquan County of Yunnan Province can only afford 2 meals per day. All they have for meals is potatoes, which causes severe malnutrition. Some kids have never seen milk. Some kids say their biggest wish is to taste a watermelon.

On April 24, a Southern Daily reporter discovered that 53 children in Happy Elementary School in Yangcheng Township of Guangdong Province had only cold corn polenta sprinkled with a little salt and drops of oil from home for lunch. Soy sauce for them is a luxury.

Liu Wenkui said China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation had started a fundraising campaign to help kids in western China to eat a snack between classes.

He said that the participation rate is on the rise, but their organization is under pressure on issues of transparency and professionalism. About 30 to 40 percent of the donations come from the public and rest from businesses and enterprises.

Research shows that a diet deficient in meat, eggs, and vegetables will result in malnutrition. The person will be 3 to 4 centimeters shorter; the IQ will be 10 to 15 points lower. The resulting loss to productivity will be 2 to 9 percent.

Read the original Chinese article.

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