ISLAMABAD: A government study has revealed that two-thirds — 76 per cent — of Pakistani households were suffering from malnutrition, quantifying health impact at the national and local levels.
The findings of two vital nutrition studies: “cost of the diet analyses”, and “nutrition in cities – a secondary data analysis of urban children in Pakistan”, carried out by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), were shared with stakeholders including donors, ministries and civil society on Thursday.
The study findings say that even though the Pakistani economy has shown growth and strong uptick with fast urbanisation, food insecurity and malnutrition remain stubbornly high.
The findings say a majority of the households could not afford nutritional diet — having all required vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients etc — and those who could afford have not been taking it because of the lack of awareness about nutritious food.
According to the findings, 83.4 per cent of households in Balochistan, 70.8 per cent in Sindh, 67.4 per cent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and 65.6 per cent Punjab were suffering from malnutrition..
Islamabad is the only exception where a majority of the households — 68.5 per cent — afford balanced diet.
The findings were compelling in the wake of the nutrition crisis in the country with 43.7 per cent of children under five suffering from malnourishment and developing stunted growth, according to a national nutrition survey 2011.
The findings also show that the quality of diet is poor for both urban and rural children with the state of children’s health in rural areas significantly substandard.
Though the urban population has higher affordability for nutritious food than rural population, Pakistan performs poorly in the region when compared with urban children of neighbouring and African countries.
The findings show that more than 2.5 million stunted children live in urban Pakistan that was more than the whole number of children with the same condition living in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea. It says that more than 1 million low weight-for-height children live in urban areas of Pakistan that is more than the entire child population of Iraq, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, DR Congo and Ethiopia with the same condition.
The micronutrient deficiency prevalence is also high among mothers with 50 per cent of them anaemic and 37 per cent deficient in vitamin-A. According to the findings, the quality of maternal nutrition is poor as only 8 per cent of mothers consume a diet meeting a minimum dietary diversity — access to a variety of foods.
“The poor diet quality is due to a combination of low affordability of nutritious foods and universal food preferences and feeding behaviours,” explained Ministry of Planning Development and Reform Chief Nutrition Muhammad Aslam Shaheen.
“Malnutrition is not an issue that could be tackled by one ministry, one partner or one donor, but rather the one that required a coordinated response,” he said.
“While nutritious food is available in most markets across Pakistan, affordability and personal food preferences limit the household access and consumption of nutritious foods and this effect is seen across all strata of the society,” said Dr Jessica Blankenship, who was part of the study.
WFP Country Representative Lola Castro said that the findings could be used “for advocacy, strategy development, and programme design and implementation to best address nutrition needs in the country”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2016.