Survey Shows High Percentage Of Marshallese Children Suffer Nutrition Deficiencies

Only 10% of kids regularly eat fruits and vegetables

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Nov. 28, 2016) – Children in the Marshall Islands suffer from serious nutrition deficiencies that suggest why large numbers develop diabetes later in life, according to a recently completed regional health survey of elementary students.

The survey checked over 200 first and second grade students in the two urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye, and on remote Ailinglaplap Atoll as part of a wider study of children in United States-affiliated islands, Hawaii and Alaska. A report of the Marshall Islands portion of the survey was delivered to Marshall Islands officials in Majuro.

“We did well on health weight and physical activity,” said Single State Agency Director Julia Alfred whose agency, which focused on substance abuse prevention, was involved in assisting the survey in the Marshall Islands. “But nutrition and access to drinking water and sanitation are problems.”

The survey showed that fewer than one out of 10 students in this age group eat fruit or vegetables.

The survey took the weight and height of students, tracked their exercise, activity and sleep patterns, and recorded food eaten during a two-day snapshot. The study was overseen by the University of Hawaii with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the Marshall Islands, the Ministry of Health, College of the Marshall Islands and numerous non-government groups cooperated to conduct the survey.

About 90 percent of the children surveyed in Marshall Islands showed a healthy weight, with most of the rest underweight. In Majuro, “underweight is more common in younger children,” the study said. On Ebeye, no underweight children were identified in the five and under age group surveyed, and only six percent were overweight. Nearly 10 percent of children six-to-eight on Ebeye were underweight.

Most children met the target for physical activity. But almost no children ate vegetables and only eight percent ate any fruit. Confirming why adequate nutrition is lacking from the daily diets of most young children in the Marshall Islands, the students surveyed listed the most frequently eaten foods as white rice, hot dogs, ramen noodles, and pancakes.

The survey also showed that these students from multiple schools in Majuro, Ebeye and Ailinglaplap did not drink enough water daily and many schools don’t have water available for students.

The survey also confirmed widespread use of betel nut and tobacco in families of the students, and some betel nut use among these young children.

The survey showed that nine percent of the young elementary age students surveyed said they had chewed betel nut and reported that over one-third of family members chewed betel nut. The average number of betel nut chewers per household identified by the survey was 2.2.

As far as tobacco, only four percent of the students said they had ever used tobacco. But when it came to household members, tobacco use jumped to nearly half of the students surveyed. The survey found that an average of 2.4 people in the households of those surveyed used tobacco.

Alfred said the report suggests action to improve the nutrition situation and access to water and sanitation for children. “It’s up to us to make the recommendations a reality,” she said.

She noted that issues of no drinking water in some public schools and the lack of a lunch program are important contributors to the problems identified by the survey. At the same time, she said it is clear that these problems can’t wait for policies of government to get adopted and implemented. They need parent involvement and action to help improve nutritional and health status of their children.

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Per article, "The survey took the weight and height of students, tracked their exercise, activity and sleep patterns, and recorded food eaten during a two-day snapshot. The study was overseen by the University of Hawaii with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture." All these conclusions based on what children ate, smoked, sleep, and did for exercise for. . .two days. Survey period was woefully inadequate. A total waste of funds by USDA.

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