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Silly myths lead to malnutrition

Fruit and vegetables off limits for Indonesian girls

Even in the 21st century, a host of food taboos are fuelling malnutrition among Indonesian girls, experts claim. That is why they are launching an adolescent health drive.Nutritionists said many girls eat very little protein, vegetables or fruit, preferring to fill up with rice and processed snacks which were often sweet or fried.

"Indonesian girls are being left behind when it comes to nutrition," said Kecia Bertermann of Girl Effect, a non-profit that uses mobile technology to empower girls. "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."

The U.N. children's agency UNICEF says Indonesia has some of the world's most troubling nutrition statistics. Two in five adolescent girls are thin due to undernutrition, which is a particular concern given many girls begin childbearing in their teens.

Experts said the food taboos were part of a wider system of cultural and social habits leading to poor adolescent nutrition, which could impact girls' education and opportunities. There are irrational fears that eating chicken wings makes it hard to find a husband, another that eating pineapple can prevent girls from conceiving later on or cause miscarriages in pregnant women. Others believe spicy food can cause appendicitis and make breast milk spicy, oily foods can cause sore throats and peanuts can cause acne.

Research by Girl Effect found urban girls ate little or no breakfast, snacked on "empty foods" throughout the day and thought feeling full was the same as being well nourished. Snacks tended to be carbohydrate-heavy, leaving girls short of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Enca.com describes how Girl Effect is teaming up with global organisation Nutrition International to improve girls' eating habits via its Springster mobile app, a platform providing interactive content for girls on health and social issues. If successful, the initiative could be expanded to the Philippines and Nigeria.

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