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Date: Sun, 22 Nov 1998 09:55:51 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: HEALTH-NORTH KOREA: Alarming Rates of Malnutrition Among Children
Article: 48268
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.1380.19981123181556@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 538.0 **/
** Topic: HEALTH-NORTH KOREA: Alarming Rates of Malnutrition Among Children **
** Written 3:12 PM Nov 21, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Alarming Rates of Malnutrition Among Children

IPS, 18 November 1998

GENEVA, Nov 18 (IPS)—Fully 60 percent of North Korean children aged six months to seven years are suffering moderate to severe malnutrition, according to a new study whose results were released Wednesday in Geneva.

Judy Cheng, director of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) office for Asia and Europe, told a news briefing that the findings of the survey—carried out by the WFP, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) and the European Union (EU)—really give us cause for serious concern.

The alarming rates of malnutrition found in North Korea compromise future generations, and should force local authorities and the international community to take a hard look at the statistics, she added.

The survey, based on random samples and conducted in 130 of North Korea’s 220 counties from September to October, also found that 16 percent of children aged six months to seven years were suffering from acute malnutrition.

The levels of malnutrition found in North Korea were worse than those of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. In Asia, higher rates of acute malnutrition have only be found in Bangladesh (18 percent), India (18) and Sri Lanka (16).

The study, conducted by 18 teams headed by staff of the international agencies, found an extremely high rate—65 percent - of chronic malnutrition, which is measured by the weight for age ratio. That measurement shows the long-term consequences of the lack of nutritional food, said Cheng.

She pointed out that by contrast with other developing countries, North Korea is not accustomed to such problems. Local authorities admit that they don’t know malnutrition. People trained in the medical areas do not how to deal with malnutrition, she added.

The survey’s message to North Korean authorities, who participated in the study and were surprised and shocked by the findings, as well as to the international community, is that the need for assistance is real, said Cheng. She stressed, however, that the need was not only for a specific amount of food, but that a closer look must be taken at certain vulnerable groups.

Cheng and Kirsi Madi, the head of UNICEF’s North Korean office in Pyongyang, admitted that in the absence of scientific data, people tend to come up with anecdotic evidence. They cited observations by international aid workers who had reported some improvement in the state of children in nurseries and kindergartens over the past year.

The UN system and EU have provided a lot of assistance, and clearly there have been some results, said Madi. But she added that we cannot really compare last year’s survey with this year’s, because the methodology used was very different. And basically, the acute malnutrition...is at the same level.

One unexplained finding of the survey was that while acute malnutrition stood at 20 percent among boys, it stood at only 11 percent among girls. Cheng pointed out that in North Korea, boys and girls received the same food, without discrimination based on gender as is seen in some other countries.

The survey demonstrated that acute malnutrition varied according to the age of children. The highest rate—30 percent—was found among toddlers between 12 and 24 months, the age at which North Korean children are traditionally weaned from breastmilk. That age also coincides with a stage of development during which undernutrition can seriously stunt physical and intellectual growth.

Among one-year-olds, acute malnutrition stood at 18 percent, which indicated that pregnant and nursing mothers also suffered from inadequate diets, Cheng pointed out.

With such high rates of malnutrition, North Korea’s levels of morbidity and mortality have also risen, she added.

Madi said that the UN agencies and the EU reacted with deep concern to the results of the study. But she stressed that while food aid is a very important element, and is definitely required, food aid alone will not be enough.

Madi underscored the need for health care and the care of the child. She pointed out that Unicef was working in the areas of health nutrition, water sanitation, education and food security in North Korea.