With swelling families and rising food prices, Kyrgyz children are not getting enough food, with long-term consequences

Setting the scene

Chynar Mamatbekova, a mother of nine, claims that, “It is truly difficult now. Just look at how expensive a kilogram of meat is. Families with many children like mine cannot say we eat meat regularly. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t. Our food is not rich with vitamins. Mainly we eat pasta and rice. How can I hide it? We eat what we can find.”

Although many families have felt the pain of not having enough food, Kyrgyz families are having more and more children, perhaps unaware that children pay the price of not getting enough food for the rest of their lives.  

History of malnourishment

Although we do not have an increase in number of children who are malnourished, 155 680 children under five in Kyrgyzstan lack proper development in adequate age-related parameters, such as weight, height. This is mainly because of lack of adequate diet and vitamins and minerals in food.

For every malnourished child under five in 2015 there were three in 1996. So there has been an improvement. But the level of malnourished children, despite improvement since 1990s, remains at the average global level (according to UNICEF) of 30 % among poorer families, which is still not good.

Nutritional Health and Population survey data compiled by World Bank shows that an average Kyrgyz woman has four children as of 2014. Women of a higher income groups have on average just three children, whereas women of lower classes have more than four children. This is an addition of one extra child per family since 1997.

This is happening despite the worsening economic situation, growing inflation rate and poverty rate.Most modern Kyrgyz families cannot afford to feed their large families. Our investigation into is the real number of children different socioeconomic groups can afford analyzed wages for different types of jobs and the minimum amount of money required to meet the basic needs of each family member (food, medical expenses, etc.). Data was sourced from National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyz Republic.

Find Out How Many Children You Can Afford

Family salary (2 adults working) Typical Job Family size (affordable)
15000-18000 soms Service, agriculture 1-2 adults + 1 child
18000-22000 soms Construction, trade, admininstration 1-2 adults +2 children
22000-50000 soms IT, finance, manufacturing 1-2 adults + >2 children

 

According to our rough estimates, a family of 6 people (2 adults and 4 children) would need to make at least 25000 to afford meeting their children’s basic needs. A family of 5 people (2 adults and 3 children) would need to make at least 20000 to cover minimum expenditures. According to NSC data, the minimum amount that is required for a one-three year old for one month is 3600 soms; 3900 if child is aged 4-6, 4600 if aged 7-13, and 5000 if aged 14-17. An adult needs 5200 soms per month to cover the most basic costs.

Although the average family can only afford to raise families with 2 healthy children but are opting for 4 or more malnourished children.

The price of a poor diet

According to UNICEF, some undernutrition conditions adversely affect long-term outcomes without causing death, but cause moderate to severe disability by impairing cognitive and physical activity and/or mental development.

There are three ways that the impact of not getting enough to eat is measured. First is underweight, it means that a child has a lower weight than she/he should have for his age. For example, a boy weights 8 kilos for 1, 5 years that is 30 % less than what a child should weigh. Second type is stunting. That means a child has a height which below a norm for his age. She is shorter than he should be. Third type is wasting, it is when a child has low weight for height. Children that are classified as wasting are most likely to die. If a child suffers from stunting, underweight or wasting he/she is considered to be underdeveloped.

In 2015, two in ten children were stunting in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is average for the region but all families aren’t impacted equally. Three in 10 children in poorer families are suffering of underdevelopment, but only two in ten wealthier families.

Many families may not realize their children are malnourished because they don’t know what food provide the nutritients their children need to develop. It’s not just about how much a child eats, but what he or she eats.  Nutrition refers to the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and enzymes that are required to prevent deficiency diseases, and to process food into tissues and energy.

Nourishment refers to the food itself; and the constituent proteins, fats and carbohydrates that rebuild the body’s tissues and fluids, and supply caloric energy as fuel.

Practically speaking, you can’t have one without the other. If food provides nourishment through empty calories with no nutritive value, then body systems will gradually fail; and if one attempts to get a full range of nutrients only from supplements, but without any associated nourishing foods, then the body starves.

Since soils have been depleted by modern mass-farming, it is actually more difficult to get enough nutrients from the same foods people ate 10 or 20 years ago.  Since so few people eat only organically-grown foods, or fully understand balanced diet and optimal nutrition, people are becoming malnourished without realizing it.

Many people assume that the food they provide to their children is enough for their healthy physical and mental development. They do not think that they should give additional supplements and fortified products, as they think that locally grown produce is full of vitamins, the same as the food they themselves grow up with. Many families actually do not understand that buying the cheapest food available to feed large families can cause permanent damage.

Causes of malnutrition

Increased Poverty

Three out of ten people in Kyrgyzstan are living on less than 5700 soms per month, as of 2015. Whereas in 2009 the respective number was two out of 10. According to data from Kyrgyz Statistical Committee, the poverty rate (a household living on a money which is below national subsistence level) has come back to its 2003-2004 level in cities, after a decade of improvement, now it stands at 30%. As families get poorer and larger, their diet becomes less healthy.

Increased cost of living

Our reporters have investigated the trends in consumer prices since 2011 on items like food, petrol and transport. Families in Bishkek and Chui region now have to buy products that are 15% more expensive than they were six years ago. Costs went up twice as fast inJalal-AbadIf in 2011 a household could buy five cartons of milk a week, in 2015 they could afford only four packs for the same amount. IfA family that could buy four kilos of meat per month in 2011, in 2015 could buy only two kilos. Rising poverty, family size and food prices all mean families can’t feed their children.

The lifetime price of malnutrition

For every fifty children from poorer families 15 are malnourished, while only nine children are in the richer families. One in two children in Kyrgyzstan does not get enough of Vitamin A or none at all, this is true among richer and poorer families. As vitamin A is one of the most basic vitamins that one should consume in order for many vital body systems to function properly, we can go so far as to extend its rate of prevalance unto other groups of vitamins (B complex, C, PP, calcium and so forth). Because no nutritional or vitamin-based enquiry has been done so far. Same ratio applies to women (one out of two).

The rates for wasting and underweight got back to a level of 1990s. Five children out of a hundred aged under five are at risk of dying as they are wasting. One in three poorer children under five will not develop fully after they reach of five if they are stunting, underweight or wasting. And that is irreversible damage to body and mind. It means they will have problems with speech, getting along with people, learning maths or sciences. It also means that their later life also be affected, as their health and productivity will be forever effected. UNICEF estimates costs of not feeding your child with adequate nutrients in dozens of millions of dollars to any local economy.

UNICEF in their report says that malnutrition keeps people from reaching their full potential. Malnourished children underperform in school, limiting their future job opportunities. Malnourished adults are less able to work, contribute to local economies, and provide care for their families.  This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and economic stagnation.

What can be done?

Many cases of malnutrition can be avoided if families have enough knowledge and spend wisely. Many families are unaware of the damage they inflict on the future of their children and few nutrition campaigns have reached a wider audience. Though awareness rates of contraceptive methods are high, Kyrgyz families choose not to use them, opting for large family size oblivious of the consequences.  

UNICEF provided a comprehensive nutritional strategy for children and mothers. Some of those strategies and programs are underway but growing family size continues to counteract those efforts. Emphasis has been put on development of other government support programs, including social protection and agriculture. These program could include smarter food subsidies, cash payments or delivery mechanisms of food to target the very young and the very poor.

Simple steps that parents can take in order to minimize the risk of malnutrition include:

  1. Exclusive breastfeed infants under six months
  2. Give multiple micronutrient powders to children under two
  3. Supplement mothers with vitamins and minerals, that should include fortification
  4. Buy iodized salt
  5. Meet a nutritionist
  6. Read online what is a proper balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals