Despite the improvement in various indicators of the health sector, Bangladesh is still far behind in achieving the desired targets in the nutrition sector. A large portion of children, women, and elderly people in the country are still suffering from malnutrition.
Despite the fact that the rate of malnutrition in our country has decreased over the last decade as a result of numerous interventional programmes, there is still nutritional deficiency. Nonetheless, the proportion of under-5 children with low height for age or stunting is 31%, the proportion of underweight children is 22%, and the anaemia rate is more than 30%.
The level of malnutrition has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, due to an increase in commodity prices, people’s food patterns are changing, the amount is decreasing, and as a result, the nutritional situation will worsen. Malnutrition will now increase as much as it has decreased.
An increase in the price of goods means a decrease in the purchasing power of people. When a person’s purchasing power decreases, he can no longer afford quality food. They will eat those that are cheap but have low nutritional value.
If a child is not fed according to its requirements, then that child will not grow up healthy. His intelligence will decrease, his class performance will decrease, and he will not be able to concentrate properly in school. There will be many such things. He may also have a chronic deficiency disorder.
A child should consume animal proteins such as eggs and milk on a daily basis. Plant protein is good, but plant protein cannot be utilised by the human body as much as animal protein. Now the price of meat is very high. Even middle-class families are unable to purchase meat now. Poor people may eat pulses instead of meat. But the price of lentils has also increased.
I have also heard that people are giving milk to small children but adding water to increase the amount due to a surge in commodity prices. But by eating this milk, the child will not get calcium and other nutrients as per the requirement. In this way, there is a shortage of essential food for children. Instead of milk and eggs, babies may be fed more rice or sugary foods.
Earlier, lentils were known as the protein of the poor, but now the price of that lentil has also increased. Low and middle-income people are deprived of essential proteins and nutrition due to an increase in commodity prices. If the price is not reduced, people will reduce their consumption of items from which protein and fat are obtained. This will have a long-term impact on our entire society. On the one hand, due to malnutrition, various physical problems will increase and performance will also decrease.
Malnutrition can also have an impact on adults’ productivity. A healthy adult requires approximately 2,100 calories per day. If a person does not get the necessary protein, vitamins, and nutrition, it affects his work. Every person has calorie and protein requirements based on age, height, and physical activity.
If a working person cannot eat as per his requirements, he cannot work according to his capacity.
To get rid of this situation, the government should take initiative in controlling the price of products. Strict measures should be taken so that prices do not increase in the upcoming Ramadan.
Furthermore, there are some foods that are nutritious even at low prices. The people should be made aware that they should eat those foods. Eating native fruits, green vegetables, and small fish also reduces the nutritional deficiency somewhat. Babies under six months old should be breastfed.
The author is a renowned nutritionist and honorary professor of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka