This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
We’ve all been there: unable to decide what to eat and in a rush, so we settle for instant noodles. It’s cheap, accessible, comes in a variety of flavours to suit our taste buds and really easy to prepare.
But if consumed too often and seen as a meal, instant noodles just isn't good for you.
It is this sort of diet heavy on cheap and quick food – like instant noodles – that has left millions of children unhealthily underweight or overweight in Southeast Asia, according to experts.
In a recent report released by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia found an average of 40 percent of children aged five and below to be malnourished, significantly higher than the global average of one in three.
Their data showed that Indonesia had 24.4 million malnourished children, followed by the Philippines with 11 million and Malaysia with 2.6 million.
Although these countries have booming economies, many working parents lack the time, money or awareness to feed their children anything better.
"Parents believe that filling their children's stomach is the most important thing. They don't really think about an adequate intake of protein, calcium or fiber," Indonesian public health expert Hasbullah Thabrany, told AFP.
One common and inadequate food parents feed to children in Southeast Asia are instant noodles, which research has shown lack crucial micronutrients like iron. They are also protein-deficient while having both high fat and salt content.
With 12.5 billion servings in 2018, Indonesia was the world’s second-biggest consumer of instant noodles, according to the World Instant Noodles Association, only behind China. Although the Philippines and Malaysia didn’t make it to the top 5 countries on the list, they still had high numbers with total servings of 3.7 billion and 1.3 billion respectively.
To counter this phenomenon, UNICEF suggested rolling back on the influence and distribution of instant noodles, most likely requiring government intervention due to the aggressive advertising in the market.
The UNICEF report also mentioned that nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, fish and meat were disappearing from diets due to the rural population moving to the cities in search of jobs. Sugar-rich biscuits, beverages, and fast food were also to blame for the unhealthy diets.
According to UNICEF, this disregard for children’s nutrition is both a symptom of past deprivation and a predictor of future poverty.
Though these countries are all considered middle-income countries by the World Bank, millions of their people struggle to make ends meet. In the Philippines, 21.6 percent of their population are below the poverty line, followed by Indonesia with 10.2 percent and then Malaysia with 0.6 percent.
"Poverty is the key issue," T Jayabalan, a public health expert in Malaysia said, along with "households where both parents have to work need quickly, made meals.”