Malnutrition challenge

Published: June 13, 2019

Acute malnutrition remains in a state of nutrition emergency in Pakistan. That’s summarised by the National Nutrition Survey 2018-19 — the biggest-ever in Pakistan’s history covering 115,600 households across the country. Overall fifth, the survey is the first to provide district-wise data to help policymakers develop evidence-based policies to address the root causes of malnutrition. The study group included children under five, women of reproductive age and adolescent boys and girls (10 to 19 years).

About children under five, findings of the survey reveal: prevalence of stunting (low height for age) at 40.2%; wasting (low weight for height) 17.7%; proportion of underweight (low weight for age) 28.9% and overweight (high weight for height) 9.5%. The same figures for the 2011 survey were: 43.7%, 15.1%, 31.5% and 5% respectively. Besides, undernourished women of reproductive age constitute 14.4% of the lot as compared to 18% in 2011. However, the proportion of overweight and obese women in the same group has increased from 28% in 2011 to 37.8% now.

The statistics on adolescents are disconcerting as well. The survey shows that almost one in eight adolescent girls and one in five adolescent boys are underweight. More adolescent girls are overweight compared to their male peers, at 11.4% and 10.2% respectively. None of the previous surveys included the adolescent category.

Comparison with figures from the 2011 survey shows that Pakistan has made extremely slow progress on the indicators relating to the nutritional status of women and children. No wonder Pakistan ranks as the second most malnourished country in Asia, according to a 2017 report by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. Does that need to be over-emphasised that poor nutrition in the crucial early years triggers irreversible mental and physical defects which have a lifelong impact on a child’s productivity and immunity against disease and earning capacity as an adult? The malnutrition challenge must be taken up on a war footing.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2019.

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