Health Experts: Food Claims Fuel Malnutrition among Indonesians
Some Indonesians believe that a woman who eats chicken wings will have a hard time finding a husband. Others claim that by eating the fruit of the pineapple tree, a woman reduces her chances of having a child.
It is because of claims like these that nutrition experts have launched a health campaign in Indonesia. It is aimed at girls and young women who suffer from poor nutrition because of their fear of some foods.
Experts said these food taboos were part of a wider system of cultural and social beliefs that lead to poor nutrition among many adolescents. They warned those traditions could affect girls' education and chances for advancement.
Nutritionists have found that Indonesian girls eat very little protein, vegetables or fruit. Instead, many turn to rice and processed foods.
"Indonesian girls are being left behind when it comes to nutrition," said Kecia Bertermann. She works for Girl Effect, a non-profit group that uses wireless technology to help girls.
"They don't understand why their health is important, or how nutrition is connected to doing well at school, at work or for their futures."
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF says Indonesia has some of the world's worst nutrition numbers in the world.
UNICEF officials say two in five adolescent girls nationwide are thin because of undernutrition. They say this is a problem because many girls begin having children before they are 20.
Research by Girl Effect found that girls in populated areas ate little or nothing early in the day and, later on, ate processed food.
Many believed that feeling full was the same as having a healthy diet. They ate food with heavy carbohydrates, leaving them in need of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Girl Effect is teaming up with a group called Nutrition International to improve girls' diets. Using a mobile app software program, they provide a place where girls can read about health and social issues.
If successful, the campaign could be expanded to other countries, including the Philippines and Nigeria.
Experts said Indonesia was a country with two kinds of malnutrition: some people are extremely small and thin, while others are fat. They say the larger Indonesians may look healthier, but lack important nutrients in their diet.
Marion Roche is a specialist on adolescent health at Nutrition International. She said the poor nutritional knowledge among girls was unusual because nutrition among babies had improved in Indonesia.
"We need to give them the knowledge to make healthy choices," Roche said, adding that many girls believe that healthy means ‘not sick.'
I'm Dorothy Gundy.