Youths have a very short window for growth, and some are struggling to catch up.
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With an average height of just between 164.7 cm for the guys and 159.6 cm for the ladies, Malaysians are noted to be some of the smallest groups of people in the world but did you know there is growing concern that our youths are actually getting smaller and shorter by the day.
In a story published by Bernama, the former president of the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) Dr Thiyagar Nadarajaw said that the country needs to pay closer attention to the issue of
linear growth faltering: which means that children and adolescents are not growing as tall as they should be at their age.
According to the doctor, this shortfall in the average height of our youths may lead to other growth problems if we continue to ignore the obvious symptoms.
He said that measures must be taken to address the problem because youths between the ages of 10 and 15 typically have a very short growth spurt window that some are struggling to catch up with.
Symptoms, what symptoms?
In an article by Utusan Malaysia, University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) paediatrician Dr Azriyanti Anuar Zaini explained that there are three types of growth problems:
- Stunting: Happens when someone is abnormally short for their age.
- Wasting: When someone is weighing abnormally less than it should be for their height.
- Underweight: This happens when someone weighs abnormally less than they should be at their age.
She said that if these problems are not dealt with at a young age, it may lead to other serious health problems like decreased levels in a persons immunity, increased risks to chronic illnesses as well as cognitive issues involving someone’s mental capacity when they get older.
What the data says
Data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 reveal that one in every five children below the age of five in Malaysia is experiencing stunted growth and that 14.1% of youths are underweight.
While NHMS 2017 apparently also recorded that one out of every 12 youths between the ages of 10 to 17 is stunted and indicated that these youths are between 6 cm and 7 cm shorter than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) child growth standards.
Additionally, a 2019 report from Unicef Malaysia noted that 20.7% of children under five in Malaysia are afflicted with stunting, and another 11.5% are affected by wasting.
These conditions are found to be more prevalent among youths from the countries rural areas, especially in East Malaysia, as well as, those within the B40 low-income group.
Why is this happening?
Both Dr Thiyagar and Dr Azriyanti pointed to malnutrition as one of the many leading causes of growth problems among our youths.
The lack of necessary nutrients in our youth’s diets, as well as unhealthy eating habits like being picky about eating vegetables or constantly consuming junk food, and irregular eating times, like skipping breakfast, for instance, are among the obvious reasons.
Dr Thiyagar also says that interruptions to a youths natural wake-sleep cycle or the circadian rhythm is also a factor that can stunt their growth by not getting the right amount of sleep.
Meanwhile, UM Specialist Centre (UMSC) paediatric endocrinology senior consultant, Dr Muhammad Yazid Jalaluddin in a story on mStar elaborated that genetics could also be the reason why some youths experience a growth stunt.
The doctor explained that youths who grow at an abnormally slow rate for their age could have an underlying growth hormone deficiency (GHD).
GHD is a condition, he says, where individual pituitary glands fail to produce enough growth hormones that allow for the normal development and other functions related to muscle and bone growth.
GHD can also make a person appear younger than they are.
This condition however can be resolved with treatment and habits to allow youths to properly grow and develop as they hit puberty.
Doctors advise parents and guardians to make sure that their kids eat healthily and on time, get enough rest and take the necessary dietary supplements or medical treatment they need to ensure that they grow up to be the full-sized adults that they’re meant to be.
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