News article

Two million children suffer from malnutrition

Posted:  Monday, April 09, 2012

Irin News, Mon,9 April 2012, DHAKA, BangladeshÂ

DHAKA(IRIN) - Two million children aged between six months and five years suffer from acute malnutrition in Bangladesh, according to a new survey.

Of these, half a million suffer from severe acute malnutrition, showed a survey conducted by World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the government’s Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN).

The three-month long survey assessed the nutritional condition of 4,175 children younger than five years in 10,378 households.

Severe wasting

“Wasting” and “severe wasting” levels of malnutrition were reported. “This is a condition that requires immediate medical attention,” the survey stated.

WFP defines wasting as reflecting “a recent and severe process that has led to substantial weight loss, usually associated with starvation and/or disease”.

Wasting is calculated by comparing weight-for-height of a child with a reference population of well-nourished and healthy children.

Almost half the children surveyed (48.6 percent) were diagnosed with stunted growth, 37.4 percent of whom were also underweight. The survey found malnutrition in Bangladesh to be one of the most severe in South Asia.

"Silent emergency"

“The situation of child malnutrition in this country is a silent emergency,” said UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh Carel de Rooy at the report’s presentation.

“Not only is malnutrition a direct cause of death among children, but it is also a significant underlying cause of child mortality. It affects the development of the child, increases the risk of women dying during pregnancy/childbirth and contributes to neonatal mortality,” he said.

“It impacts on the society at large, affecting school performance, healthcare costs and productivity. Unless the current level of malnutrition is urgently addressed, Bangladesh is unlikely to achieve and sustain the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs],” he said.

Food insecurity

The survey also found one household in four was suffering from food insecurity, defined by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as inadequate physical, social or economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life.

The primary purpose of the survey was to assess the impact of rising food prices on the overall nutritional condition of the population in 2008.

Between 2005 and 2008, household income dropped by 12 percent and expenditure on food rose by 10 percent, the survey revealed.

As prices of everyday commodities, especially food and fuel, skyrocketed, an additional 7.5 million people bolstered the ranks of those who consume less than 2,100 calories, the minimum daily amount of food recommended by WFP, bringing the total to 65 million – or 45 percent of the total population.

The situation is so grave that, according to John Aylieff, WFP country representative to Bangladesh, “even the recent fall in food prices may not be enough to alleviate this crisis as the current global financial crisis takes its toll on the poor.

“The increasing financial pressure on the poor of the country has reduced their diversity and frequency of food intake drastically - which were identified as key reasons for malnutrition among children, as assurance of at least four food groups per day is essential to child nutrition,” he said.

The four primary food groups are meat products, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and grains.

In recent months, prices, especially of rice, wheat and fish, the main staple of Bangladeshis, have reduced.

Lack of child care

The survey identified lack of proper child-care training as one of the major reasons for malnutrition in Bangladesh.

Only half the mothers questioned were found to be aware of exclusive breast-feeding of infants for the first six months as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WFP recognises chronic deprivation of the socially vulnerable, natural disasters and poor health services and hygiene practices as factors posing the highest threat to achieving food security, all of which are prevalent in Bangladesh.