‘Growth Watch Month’ Focuses On Alarming Rise In Childhood Stunting
Growth Watch Month
Growth Watch Month seeks to raise awareness about the importance of early intervention and proper nutrition in promoting optimal growth and development in children and teenagers.
By fostering a shared understanding among healthcare professionals and parents, this initiative aims to empower individuals with the knowledge and resources needed to support children in reaching their full growth potential.
Through collaborative efforts and a focus on preventive measures, Growth Watch Month aims to create a brighter future for the younger generation.
The Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) initiated this annual nationwide event under its IMFeD For Growth programme which began in 2012.
Growth Watch Month was launched by the MPA and its partners:
- The Malaysian Medical Association.
- Malaysian Family Medicine Specialists’ Association.
- Malaysian Association of Kindergartens.
- Malaysian Association of Registered Early Child Care and Development.
Addressing The Issues
Growth Watch Month is largely dedicated to identifying children and teenagers 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.
“While the majority of Malaysian children and adolescents are growing normally, childhood stunting remains a concern for the rest of them,” said Professor Dr Lee Way Seah, Chairman of IMFeD For Growth Programme.
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 found that:
– 21.2% or 1-in-5 children was stunted.
– 6.8% of teenagers 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.
“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,” says Professor Dr Lee.
Growth faltering can occur at any time during childhood and adolescence and tends to be so gradual that it often goes undetected.
Over time, the children may never be able to reach their height and end up becoming permanently stunted adults with a significant disadvantage in life.
Professor Lee stressed that optimal growth can only be achieved when certain fundamentals are present, such as proper eating habits, optimal nutrition, adequate physical activity that is appropriate for age, and regular growth monitoring from a young age.
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.”
What is M-I-M?
This step involves taking the children’s weight and height and putting the measurements onto WHO growth charts to ascertain whether the children’s growth fall in the normal, at-risk, or stunted ranges.
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.
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
Growth Watch Month provides the opportunity to focus parents’ attention on growth.
According to Dr Selva Kumar Sivapunniam, President of the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), “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, via Facebook and YouTube.”
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 said 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 their website.
IMFeD has screened 127,000 children since 2018.