KARACHI: Nearly half of all households in Pakistan are unable to meet their nutritional needs, the first ever survey of its kind in the country has revealed.
According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018 – a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune – poverty keeps more than 50 per cent of Pakistani families from having two meals a day, leading to severe dietary deficiencies.
As a result, as many as 40.2 per cent of all children in the country are affected by chronic malnutrition and stunted growth, which inhibits both their cognitive and physical development, the exercise carried out by the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) revealed.
The survey also discovered that 36.9 per cent of Pakistani households remain food insecure and lack reliable access to affordable nutritious food in sufficient amounts.
To counter the nutritional emergency as quickly as possible, the federal government has already drafted a food fortification bill for the first time in Pakistan’s history, Pakistan Pediatric Association (PPA) Secretary General Dr Khalid Shafi said. The bill, among other things, will make the addition of micronutrients in items like flour and ghee mandatory, he told The Express Tribune.
The objective of the survey, which will be released publicly today in a ceremony in Karachi, is to draw the attention of policymaking institutes towards the ever growing problem of malnutrition among Pakistani children.
One of the biggest ever
The survey is one of the biggest in Pakistan’s history and covers both the rural and urban population of all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. As many as 115,600 families, including 145,324 women, 76,742 children under five years of age and 145,847 minors aged between 10 and 19 years were studied during the course of the survey.
Teams conducting the research took blood and urine samples from participants and investigated water quality and sewerage situation in and around their homes to determine their natural body development and whether it was hindered by diseases or lack of nutrients.
Participants were also interviewed to ascertain their industrial independence, level of education and in the case of women and infants, breastfeeding ratios.
Among the key findings of the survey is that only 48.4 per cent of women in Pakistan breastfeed their children during infancy. It also found malnutrition to be at least partially a hereditary issue as women who lacked necessary nutrients in their diet gave birth to weak children.
The study pointed out that the early years of child are extremely important in terms of nourishment and malnutrition at this stage hinders cognitive and physical development, affecting both growth and immunities in the long run.
Four out of every 10 children under the age of five in Pakistan were discovered to be affected by stunted growth and lack of education and awareness was found to be a significant factor behind this. The study also discovered dietary discrimination in the favour of boys over girls in a significant number of families in the country.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, National Institute of Child Health Chairman Prof Jamal Raza noted that it is alarming that the percentage of children suffering from malnutrition in Pakistan is the same as 24 years ago. He stressed the importance of a proper diet during pregnancy, urging expecting mothers to realise that what they eat is transferred directly to their children.
Dr Shafi, meanwhile, pointed out that being underweight in children often result in both underdeveloped cognitive capacities and a history of recurring medical problems.