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China Focus: Nutrition for poor children high on agenda

(Xinhua)    20:32, January 16, 2015

BEIJING, Jan. 16 -- While urban parents worry that their children are obese, kids in the country's underdeveloped rural regions are often malnourished.


Malnutrition threatens to hold back a generation of rural Chinese.

Pickles and cold steamed buns are what five-year-old Mai Xiaoying takes to school for lunch.

"I just want something hot [to eat]," she said.

If she takes the long walk home each noon, she can probably eat hot steamed buns, but meat and fresh vegetables are luxuries out of her reach.

Mai, who was born and lives in Wuzhong City's Tongxin County in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is visibly underdeveloped compared to her urban peers.

According to a 2010 survey, stunted growth among the under-fives in China's poor rural areas was about 20.3 percent, while eight percent were classed as underweight, nearly eight times than in urban areas. And 13.3 percent of rural children suffered from anemia.

Mai is among 40 million rural children in 680 poor counties in China, who need education and better lives, but most urgently malnutrition must be addressed.


In 2011, subsidized school lunches were introduced, with 16 billion yuan (2.6 billion U.S. dollars) a year allocated to 23 million students in about 100,000 rural schools.

Deng Yan'en, 12, from the mountainous Gaoxian County in central China's Henan Province, is among the 70,000 students in the county to have benefited from the government's nutrition program. Before that, he only ate one meal a day and was often left hungry.

He hopes his younger brothers can also be helped by the nutrition program, so that he doesn't need to secretly stash the milk his school distributes every day to take home and share with his siblings.

Actually, the country has provided free daily nutritional supplements -- a concoction of soybeans, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamins -- to hundreds of thousands of poor rural infants between 6 months to 2 years old since 2012.

But children aged between two and six are not covered. However, a new plan approved by the central government in November may help.

Its benefits include prenatal care to effective and affordable education.

"It means the government's sponsored nutrition programs may help more kids, including preschoolers, in the future," said Liu Bei, a project officer with the China Development Research Foundation, a non-profit government agency.


Everybody says children are the future. Thus, more money should be invested in them, said Chang Suying, nutrition specialist with the United Nations International Children' s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

She said the nutrition programs will help with children's health and brain development, while alleviating poverty and building the economy.

Chang said UNICEF is exploring plans for future projects that focus on the first 1,000 days of life, from conception through the first two years -- a crucial period that is linked to child development.

China intends to lower the prevalence of stunting, underweight and anemia among the under fives in poor rural areas to 10 percent, five percent and 12 percent respectively by 2020.

Before that, there needs to be improved program supervision on local governments to guarantee proper spending of central government subsidies, said Liu Bei, who added that food safety should also be guaranteed.

"I dream of growing up quickly and when I go to primary school, I can have a free lunch," said Mai Xiaoying.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yao Xinyu,Bianji)

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