The Changing Face of the Indonesian Child

We are spending the weekend in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city and like most of the inhabitants of this burgeoning city do, we hibernate into the labyrinths of one of Jakarta’s many malls. Today, we visited Lippo’s Kemang Mall. It was teeming with young uber-chic 20 somethings and families with children. Not so un-similiar to any other big city mall except for me, there has been a shift in the faces of the youngest inhabitants of this city.

When I first visited Jakarta without being accompanied by my parents in 1992, the population was only about 8 million people. I would sit in front of my older sister’s house and talk and play marbles or hop scotch with the local kids from around the neighbourhood. Their faces were that of happy, young healthy girls and boys who would play in the street either kicking a ball or jumping karet (rubber bands all strung together so it was as long as a jump rope) until it was dusk and their mothers would call them in to bathe and have dinner. Dinner was normally a home cooked meal of protein, vegetables and rice, occasionally if mother was tired or the maid/cook was having a day off, they would go to the local warung and order a simple meal. This is no longer the case.

It seems however the girth of the Indonesian child is growing as fast the city and as fast as the population, Jakarta’s urban sprawl is now tipping close to 31 million people.

There are now 173 shopping malls in Jakarta! Therefore there are choices galore for shoppers and food lovers alike. Among the usual Indonesian restaurants serving the most famous Nasi Goreng or Nasi Campur, you will find many western imports like KFC and MacDonalds, who have been around for years intermingled with newcomers like Kenny Rogers diner, Outback Steakhouse, Swiss brand Marché and many, many more to choose from. The choices for consumers become more overwhelming, with th start-ups in the food business opening food stalls and food carts offering quick, fried, greasy and sugary food delicacies from all over the globe. And this is only in Jakarta!

Like ants attracted to a bowl of sugar left out in the open, the new middle class in the city are swarming to these food outlets to feed themselves and their children.

When we stepped into the entrance of the mall, our senses were assaulted by the cacophony of smells and sounds of a food bazaar happening. Young, hip, uber-chic food-entrepeneurs were plying their wears to a hot and starving audience.

Crispy fried chicken skin….No problem…Would you like a gooey orange cheese dip with it? Asks the salesperson. “It’s healthy!” he continues with his sales pitch “We have taken the fat off the skin”.

Other new delicacies on offer were fried mushrooms sprinkled with chicken salt served with rice or pasta drizzled with that gooey orange cheese, croissants stuffed with grilled beef, onion and cheese, huge mason jars of thick chocolate shakes decorated with sprinkles, chocolate wafers, mini chocolate donuts and topped with whipped cream from the can. Waffles drowned in red jelly (jello for my American readers) topped with ice-cream and doused with whipped cream.

Not a single kue lempar, nagasari, bubur kacang or any other Indonesian traditional snack was to be seen. What was available was only the new fusion-face of Indonesian pop cuisine.

This is reflected across Indonesia, as the wealth of the country grows so does the girth of it’s young inhabitants.

Parents are embracing the availability of fast food as well as access to pediatric specialists and nutritional experts who have been trained overseas who advise them that a diet of pureed salmon with pasta and cream cheese twice a day, is a healthy meal for a 3 year old child because of it’s high Omega-3 content. But no one ever mentions how much fat this child is consuming in these meals, not to mention the copious amounts of sugary milk drinks she is having a day. It seems these snake-oil sales persons in the food and health industry need to be re-educated in the nutritional facts of the foods they are providing to their customers and most importantly as customers, Indonesian parents need to be aware of the health risk they are putting their children in.

The faces in the malls, now are of heavy-set little boys and girls trudging along with their parents walking into a café or diner (actually as I edit this, two obese twin toddlers are being cajoled by their nannies to sit down so they can spoon feed them what looks pureed a pureed salmon mixture).

This is not limited to the malls in the big cities though. With the ease of migration from one island to another, the spread of the fast-food industry especially Indonesia’s cheap cousin, the food-cart, offering Palm-oil fried food laced with MSG, is readily making available, quick, easy and cheap meals for the Indonesian household with little to no nutritional value and it seems that the Indonesian child is growing up to become a twenty something with early onset diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease.


Therefore it is little surprise that Indonesia, according to the World Life Expectancy website is ranked number one in the world, for cause of death by stroke. This makes one wonder – if maybe, the 5th largest country in the world, is not slowly killing it’s people by implanting palm oil, MSG and high fat content foods into the Indonesian diet?



Note: Please do not think that all Indonesian children are like this. I know of many who are fit & healthy.

  • Lemper is one of Indonesia traditional kue made of glutinous rice filled with chicken, fish or abon (meat floss) and wrapped inside a banana leaf.
  • Bubur kacang hijau/merah (green bean/red porridge) is an Indonesian and Malaysian sweet dessert made from mung beans porridge with coconut milk and palm sugar or cane sugar
  • Nagasari or kue pisang is a traditional steamed cake from Indonesia made from rice flour, coconut milk, sugar filled with slices of banana and wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed.

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