Nutrient-tailored lunches could bolster health among garment workers: Cambodia study

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Large-scale lunch provisions had the “potential to improve food security of workers” at a cost of less than US$1 per person, per day. ©iStock
Large-scale lunch provisions had the “potential to improve food security of workers” at a cost of less than US$1 per person, per day. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition

Lunch provisions specifically designed to address deficiencies and caloric needs can support nutrition and health among workers in Cambodia, claim researchers.

A study published in Nutrients​ implemented a lunch provision model at a garment factory in Cambodia, specifically tailored to consider caloric needs and target macro- and micro-nutrient deficiencies among its female workers.

Findings showed large-scale lunch provisions had the “potential to improve food security of workers”​ at a cost of less than US$1 per person, per day.

Lead research associate Jan Makurat from the Institute of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Giessen, Germany, said lunch could actually be provided for as little as 75 cents a day.

“It’s cheap; it’s really, really cheap,”​ he told NutraIngredients-Asia. “And keep in mind the factory owners already have to pay a daily lunch allowance for workers at the end of each month — the equivalent of about half a dollar each day.”

“We have a lot of opportunity to support the workers and improve their health by designing the lunches in a very specific way,” ​Makurat said.

Hitting RDAs

The research associate said lunch in particular held significant potential because it was the biggest meal eaten by the women throughout the day.

Findings showed each meal provided the women roughly one-third of their recommended daily allowance (RDA) or adequate intake of energy, carbohydrates, fat and dietary fibre. The meal also provided 46% of the RDA of protein, 159% of the RDA of vitamin C, 66% of the RDA of vitamin A, and 44% of the RDA of folate.

When developing the lunch model, Makurat said it was important to use the nutritional status and needs of the workers as a guideline, plug nutritional gaps and focus on macro- and micro-nutrient needs.

Previous research forming part of this study​ had, for example, indicated widespread anaemia and specific vitamin deficiencies among the women, he said, although more quantitative data would be needed for future meal plans.

“I cannot extrapolate my findings to all of Cambodia. We’re giving some suggestions, some information on the price — which is relevant to all — but it would be necessary, if someone wanted to offer free lunches, to look into the situation of their workers at that specific factory.”

Iron strength

Iron, for example, was a strong focus for the development of this lunch programme, Makurat said, because of the widespread anaemia and poor iron status among workers.

However, providing sufficient iron in the lunches was particularly easy — meals provided just 20% of the RDA.  He said this was because the leafy greens provided at lunch were not as dense in iron as expensive foods like red meat.

Makurat said cheap, iron-dense alternatives would have to be considered in the future.

“We would suggest including blood curd — it’s a very common ingredient in Southeast Asia that provides a lot of iron. Liver would be another option, and there are also some indigenous small fish species that are eaten whole (with head and bones) that have high iron content. These small fish, blood curd and liver are all affordable.”

Asked if a simple supplement or shake could be provided instead, he said it was too narrow an approach.

“The overall impact of providing lunch is much more worthy than pills. You’re providing dietary diversity for workers; you’re bringing them together so they have a break in a nice area where they can sit and socialise. They save money because they don’t have to buy their lunch — it’s a commercial caterer so (the) quality is better. It might bring so many benefits — it’s much more than just saying, ‘Have a shake to cure your anaemia or iron deficiency.'”

The bigger impact

Makurat said the research — funded by the German Ministry of Economic Corporation and Development (BMZ) — was now entering the next phase: looking at the impact these lunches had on specific health indicators like micro-nutrient status, body mass index (BMI) and haemoglobin levels.

“The overall goal of our research project is to find the actual impact of providing lunch to the workers on specific indicators of nutrition and health status.”

This data, he said, was being collated now and would likely be published by autumn this year.

Source: Journal Nutrients

doi: 10.3390/nu9070782

“Estimated nutritive value of low-price model lunch sets provided to garment workers in Cambodia”

Authors: J. Makurat, et al.

Related topics Research South Asia Phood

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