Indonesians walk through a rice paddy field. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Too many Indonesian girls are malnourished as they do not consume enough protein and prefer rice and processed snacks to more nutritious meals, experts say.

Kecia Bertermann, a member of the non-profit organization Girl Effect, said Indonesian girls are being left behind when it comes to nutrition as they eat very little fruit and vegetables, Reuters reported.

“They don’t understand why their health is important, nor how nutrition is connected to doing well at school, at work or for their futures,” Bertermann said.

According to the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF), Indonesia has some of the most troubling nutrition statistics in the world as two in five adolescent girls are thin because of undernutrition. There are an estimated 3 million cases of severe acute malnutrition in the country every year.

Nutritionists say food taboos are the reason for malnutrition among Indonesian girls. Many believe that eating pineapples jeopardizes fertility, while others think eating spicy food can cause appendicitis and make breast milk spicy.

Marion Roche, a specialist in adolescent health for Nutrition International, said Indonesian girls needed to be educated on nutrition and health.

“Adolescent girls don’t know what healthy looks like, as health is understood as the absence of illness. We need to give them the knowledge to make healthy choices,” Roche said.

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