Changing food patterns : Balanced diet not on the menu

A National Nutrition Curriculum compiled by experts remains unexplored for two decades

Sehrish Wasif/maryam Usman October 12, 2014


Saliha, 29, prides herself over being a wise homemaker. Her average grocery list comprises items such as dairy products, boxed milk and juices, fresh fruit and vegetables and meat and eggs.

“Back in college, I consumed a lot of junk food but motherhood has made me realise the importance of a healthy, balanced diet. For this, I have undergone some major lifestyle changes that include buying fresh groceries and dairy products and cutting down on meat,” she said.

When asked if her eight-year-old daughter was getting a balanced diet, she said, “I make sure that my daughter has a bowl of milk and cereal for breakfast and then for lunch, I pack her fries and burger.” The young mother is assertive that her child is getting a complete meal, even if fresh fruits and vegetables are not so frequent on the child’s platter.

Granted, having all necessary supplies is key, but what decides that the diet is balanced?

According to Dr Rezzan Khan, who has been working as a consultant nutritionist at Shifa International Hospital for 16 years, her patients are mostly unaware of a balanced diet. “It does not matter which income-group they come from, they only have basic information on having folic acid or consuming vitamins which can lead to excessive weight gain.”

She added that mothers only realise the importance of having a healthy diet when they conceive or later when they are nursing their babies. Talking about her teenage patients, she said most of them are addicted to junk food and their mothers are not bothered about it.

Khan stressed that mothers should focus on their daughters’ diets from the beginning to ensure that they have strong bones and a good immune system at every age. “A healthy diet should include a glass of milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, a portion of meat at the minimum,” said Khan

Dr Arjumand Faisel, who is a public health specialist and in the past has worked for the World Health Organization and Agha Khan hospital, among others, said as Pakistanis, we have the solution to improve the nutrition status but the main challenge is lack of awareness. “Back in the early 90’s, a total of 18 health experts prepared a National Nutrition Curriculum (NNC) which was sent for an international review before being launched in the country.”

He claims this curriculum remains largely unexplored by the government. “Currently, only the senior health officials, who were active at that time, can recall the existence of such an initiative,” he said, adding that no headway has been made in this regard since.

“The NNC was prepared during the time when the internet was not very common in the country that is why it is not available online but is available with me hardcopy if anyone needs it,” he said.

Faisel further said that mobilising lady health workers, visitors, community midwives or nutritionists can play a major role in improving the nutrition status of the country, which is currently faced with a situation akin to a nutrition-emergency.

Quoting a study he carried out, titled ‘Understanding the current feeding/eating patterns of low-income females (0-49 years), knowledge deficit about proper diet and possible nutrition education interventions’, Faisel said donor-driven programmes addressing nutrition in the country focus on feeding and eating patterns of women in limited phases of their lives.

“They however should focus on importance of well-balanced diet in all age groups as it is mentioned in the NNC,” he said.

While talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Baseer Achakzai, the national programme manager nutrition wing of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination expressed complete unawareness about the NNC.

“I had have never heard about any such NNC and I do not think so that in Pakistan any educational institute is offering courses in nutrition,” he said.

Furthermore, talking about the nutrition status in Pakistan, Achakzai said at present it is not on the priority list of the government.

“Even after knowing the shocking statistics revealed in the National Nutrition Survey 2011 no work is being done to improve it,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2014.


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