Medical and Early Childhood Care & Education Organisations Launch ‘Growth Watch Month’ To Help Curb Worrying Increase In Childhood Stunting In Malaysia
Petaling Jaya, 8 June 2023 – Growth Watch Month was inaugurated today to bring healthcare professionals and parents together to prevent stunting in children and adolescents so they may attain their full growth potential for a brighter future.
The Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) initiated this annual nationwide event under its IMFeD For Growth programme which began in 2012.
Growth Watch Month was jointly launched today by the MPA and its partners, namely, the Malaysian Medical Association, Malaysian Family Medicine Specialists’ Association, Malaysian Association of Kindergartens, and Malaysian Association of Registered Early Child Care and Development.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM OF STUNTING
According to Professor Dr Lee Way Seah, Chairman of IMFeD For Growth Programme, Growth Watch Month is largely dedicated to identifying children and adolescents who are either stunted or at risk of stunting. Through relevant activities, the organisers will advise their parents on the appropriate nutritional interventions and support needed to get their children’s growth back on track.
He said: “While the majority of Malaysian children and adolescents are growing normally, childhood stunting remains a concern for the rest of them.”
By the age of 5 years, children are supposed to attain 60% of their adult height. Sadly, based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2022, 21.2% or 1-in-5 was stunted.
NHMS 2022 also reported that 6.8% of our adolescents were stunted. These individuals were not experiencing the full benefit of growth spurts that would bring them another 15 to 20% closer to potential adult height.
The short and long-term effects of stunting are clear. Stunted children tend to fall sick more often, miss opportunities to learn, perform less well in school, and have lower self-esteem. They are also at risk of becoming stunted in adulthood as well – a condition that is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, decreased economic productivity, and lower lifetime-earning potential.
Professor Lee remarked: “We need to nip stunting in the bud. It always starts with growth faltering. This is when children are not receiving enough nutrition so their growth rate literally ‘slows’ down.
“Without adequate energy, protein, fats and micronutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and so on, their bones and muscles will not be able to develop at a healthy rate.”
Growth faltering can occur at any time during childhood and adolescence, and tends to be so gradual that it often goes undetected. Over the time, the children may never be able to recover their height and end up becoming permanently stunted adults with a significant disadvantage for life.
Professor Lee stressed that optimal growth can only be achieved when certain fundamentals are present, namely, good feeding practices, optimal nutrition, adequate physical activity that are appropriate for age, and regular growth monitoring from young.
He added: “We also encourage parents to bring their children aged 1 to 17 years old to get their growth checked by a healthcare professional who has been trained to use our M-I-M approach.”
The first M refers to ‘Measure’. This step involves taking the children’s weight and height, and plotting the measurements onto WHO growth charts to ascertain whether the children’s growth fall in the normal, at-risk, or stunted ranges.
The letter “I” comes next. If the children are stunted or experiencing growth faltering, we need to ‘Identify’ the underlying cause. Common factors causing growth faltering in children are malnutrition, unhealthy lifestyle habits, underlying medical conditions, poor parenting skills, or a combination thereof.
Finally, the healthcare professionals would be ready to ‘Manage’ the situation. Interventions may involve adequate and appropriate nutrition, improving parenting skills, and encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviour.
GROWTH WATCH MONTH ACTIVITIES
According to Dr Selva Kumar Sivapunniam, President of the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), Growth Watch Month provides the opportunity to focus parents’ attention on growth.
He said: “We will work with all relevant stakeholders to conduct educational activities. These will include media write-ups and interviews. Parents and caregivers will also be able to enjoy a series of four lively Parents Forums, broadcast live over Zoom, https://www.facebook.com/MPAEDS/ and https://www.youtube.com/@mpaeds”
Featuring a celebrity host and members of the IMFeD For Growth Expert Panel, the forums will cover topics including:
- Feeding, Nutrition And Growth For Tiny Tots
- Helping Children Shine In School
- Nurturing Growth Through The Teenage Years
- Parenting Tips For Healthy Children
Dr Selva remarked that another major highlight of Growth Watch Month will be the IMFeD For Growth Annual Screening Campaign happening from August to November 2023 in all IMFeD clinics listed on https://clinics.imfed.my/. IMFeD has screened 127,000 children since 2018.
The Growth Watch Month launch ceremony today featured a forum discussing the theme ‘Stunting in Children & Adolescents: Nature or Nurture?’. Celebrity host Daphne Iking moderated the session in which IMFeD For Growth members shared valuable insights and advice. The experts comprised Dr Yong Junina Fadzil, a Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Cardiologist; Prof Dr Firdaus Mukhtar, a Clinical Psychologist; and Ms Rozanna M Rosly, a Clinical Dietitian.