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11 Facts About Hunger, Poverty & Nutrition In Malaysia That You Should Know About

From a young age, most of us have been told and taught to eat nutritious meals. Three main meals a day and healthy snacks in between. While eating healthy and wholesome is common for most families in Malaysia, there are still thousands of Malaysians that go to bed with an empty stomach, don’t have enough money to purchase the next meal or lack the awareness of what constitutes a healthy diet. 

Food intake and nutrition are extremely important because it impacts other areas of development such as education and employment. The battle to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poor nutritional knowledge is one of the greatest challenges to ensuring a healthy, functioning and contributing population in the future. 

Source: Asia Media International

Here are 11 facts about hunger, nutrition and poverty in Malaysia that you should know about: 

  1. In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recorded that 900,000 Malaysians are hungry [1]. Of this number, adults, children and the elderly are eating less than three meals a day – not by choice but because they do not have enough money to buy food or lack accessibility to the food.
  1. In 2019, the World Bank identified that 3 out of 10 Malaysians feel they do not have enough money to buy food[2]. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of Malaysians who felt that they do not have enough money for food has tripled from 8.6% to 28.7%. In rural areas, the numbers went from 18.6%  to 30%[2].
  1. Ironically, the urban poor communities are facing hunger issues when in urban areas it should be easier for people to find food and have access to them. 52% of households living in low cost flats in Kuala Lumpur, do not have enough money for food. 15% of them say they do not have enough money for food and the insufficient funds is a normal and frequent occurrence[3].         
  1. Between 2017 and 2019 there were 2.1 million people in Malaysia who faced severe food insecurity issues. They faced challenges in getting constant food supply, had limited access to food supply because of poor infrastructure, transportation issues and financial constraints and other weather related food supply problems[1]
  1. Malaysia’s B40 spends roughly RM763 per month, per household on food and drinks. That’s roughly RM25 a day, shared between an entire family. The M40s have RM44 a day, and T20s have RM76 a day to spend on food alone[4]
  1. Instead of ‘What should I eat today?’, those who experience hunger issues would think, ‘What can fill my stomach and keep me full longer?’. As the B40s have less to spend on food, and cannot afford premium items that are often associated with healthy eating, the first food items that are dropped off the list are usually high-quality proteins such as beef, chicken or fish, dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Instead, they spend their money on low-cost energy-rich starches such as rice and instant noodles, high-sugar items and processed food that has a longer shelf life. The common protein source that should come from meats are substituted by eggs instead[3]
  1. Money saved in grocery and food shopping may unfortunately go towards medical bills in the long run. Poor quality and low-nutrition food items that are lower in cost have long term health impacts. These food items are found to be high in sodium, salt, sugar, preservatives and unhealthy fats which may contribute to long term health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure[3].
  1. Whenever we think of the poor, images of thin, scrawny, malnourished, sunken-eyed individuals come to mind. While this is still very true, the irony is that poverty also brings with it unintended weight problems such as obesity. A study conducted in an urban poor community in Kuala Lumpur showed that a whopping 65.1% of adults who were part of the study were either overweight or obese[5].
  1. According to Institute for Public Health in 2019, 1 in 5 Malaysian children below 5 years old are stunted[6]. This can be caused by the child not being able to access the ‘right’ kind of food for the first few years of development. Stunting can cause both short term and long term effects on the child’s development. Short term effects include a higher risk of dying from repeated infections such as diarrhoea. Longer-term effects usually include adult obesity, leading to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 
  1. Households earning less than RM1000 per month have almost double the risk of having a child with stunted growth compared to a household that earns more than RM5000 [7]. This is not surprising because 12% of Malaysian children have less than three meals a day, and these meals are often not balanced and nutritious meals[8].
  1. 16,688 tonnes of food are wasted every day in Malaysia. Of the total food waste, 3000 tonnes are considered still edible. Food waste increases by 15 – 20% during festive seasons. According to Mohammad Diah Wahari, deputy CEO of Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp), “The amount of food wastage in Malaysia is enough to feed 12 million people three times a day [9].

Explore Our Sources:

  1. FAO. (2019).  (2019). Number of people undernourished (millions) (3-year average). Link.
  2. The World Bank. (2019). Malaysia Economic Monitor: Making Ends Meet. Link.
  3. Unicef. (2018). Child Without. Link.
  4. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Household Expenditure Survey Report 2019. Link.
  5. Jo Ann Andoy-Galvan, Lugova H, Patil SS et al. F1000Research. (2020). Income and obesity in an urban poor community: a cross-sectional study. Link.
  6. Institute for Public Health. (2020). National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019: Non-Communicable Diseases: Risk Factors and Other Health Problems. Shah Alam: Institute for Public Health, Ministry of Health. Link.
  7. D. Kok. (2019). Stunting in Malaysia: Costs, Causes and Courses for Action. Link.
  8. S. Sharma. (2020). 7 FACTS ABOUT HUNGER IN MALAYSIA. Borgen Project. Link.
  9. Poverty, Pollution, Persecution. (2019). Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) deputy chief executive officer Mohammad Diah Wahari. Link.

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