Instant-noodles harmful for children’s health, cautions UNICEF

A diet heavy on cheap, modern food like instant noodles that fills bellies but lacks key nutrients has left millions of children unhealthily thin or overweight in South Asia and Southeast Asia, experts say

Image courtesy: Freepik
Image courtesy: Freepik

India has a growing economy and the standard of living is improving, yet many working parents do not have the time, money or awareness to steer clear of food hurting.

It is a normal scenario, where mothers send children to school with a tiffin containing noodles, biscuits or chips. It might save the parents some time but it can be harmful to children’s health in the long-term.

Parents believe that filling their children’s stomach is the most important thing. They don’t really think about adequate intake of protein, calcium or fibre.

Noodles are easy. Noodles are cheap. Noodles are quick and an easy substitute for what should have been a balanced diet

They are low on essential nutrients and micronutrients like iron and are also protein-deficient while having high fat and salt content.

In Nepal, a recent study suggested that children under 2 may be getting on average a quarter of their energy intake from items such as biscuits, instant noodles and juice drinks, which is lowering their intake of essential vitamins and  minerals. Children eating the most of these sorts of snacks and beverages were shorter than their peers.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Ritika Murudkar, a clinical nutritionist and diabetic educator, informed, “A number of parents come to me with a complaint, that their child eats only junk food, especially noodles. Children refused to eat nutritional food. This is not good for children’s health.”

She added, “Noodles has a lot of sodium bicarbonate (soda) content, so, they feel that their stomach is full. It also contains refined wheat, which is heavy to digest. It remains in the stomach for a longer period of time. So, they don’t feel hungry and lack nutrition which is required by the body. Daily consumption of noodles can affect the intestine.”

Hidden hunger can exist with both traditional and modern diets. Some communities in low-income countries, for example, depend heavily on just a few staples, such as grains and tubers, and may only very occasionally eat more nutrient-rich items such as fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

Modern diets, too, are implicated. Processed and ultra-processed foods can be fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, and in many parts of the world this helps meet children’s micronutrient needs.

While Dr Ankita Ghag, a clinical nutritionist, stated, Noodles contain a high amount of carbs and sodium and lack protein. It tastes good, so, children crave it. Children get addicted to it and refused to eat nutritional food. As a parent, as soon as your child can eat solid food, we should encourage them to eat fruits and nutritional food.”

Ultraprocessed foods and drinks can also be deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. And because some of these foods, such as cheap instant noodles and biscuits, can be very filling, they can reduce children’s appetite for more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.

Source: The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition (UNICEF)