PETALING JAYA: A group of health advocates have called for the government to expand the free meal programme to all students in primary schools under the 2024 budget in order to tackle child malnutrition.
They said the existing supplementary food programme (RMT) only targets the poor and runs the risk of excluding those with other nutritional needs.
“Expand the free school meals to all children in primary schools to ensure they are all provided with a nutritious meal, since child malnutrition cuts across all income groups,” they said in a statement.
According to the group, currently, only children from homes with a household income of less than RM1,169 are eligible for RMT meals.
They said the condition which was set in 2019 is no longer “relevant nor sensitive” to the post-pandemic financial constraints faced by families.
The statement was jointly issued by Dr Musa Nordin, chairman of the Federation of Islamic Medical Associations Advisory Council (Fima), former health director-general Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman, president-elect of Federation of Asian Nutrition Societies (FANS) Dr Tee Ee Siong, Asia Pacific Pediatric Associations (Appa) secretary-general Dr Zulkifli Ismail and former Asia Pacific Association of Pediatric Society (Appes) Dr Yazid Jalaludin.
They added that an alternative to RMT would be the adoption of the Malaysian school child nutrition promotion programme (MySNPP) implemented by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM).
The MySNPP includes a short nutrition education session for students and the provision of a nutritious meal to all children during their mid-morning or afternoon recess.
“The meals are controlled by nutritionists and prepared by canteen operators and/or parent-teacher associations.
“With this approach, the school does not sell any food during the break, as it has been found to be notoriously unhealthy and unbalanced,” they said.
MySNPP is now only implemented in several schools in Johor by NSM and nutritionists in the state.
They also urged Putrajaya to promote breastfeeding for the first six months of life for babies, including by establishing a more supportive environment at the workplace and public areas.