Malnutrition, under-nutrition and nutritional deficiencies are arguably the least prioritised issues within our society. Of the various causes of distress in Pakistan, malnutrition has remained a pressing challenge in recent times.
Around 2.7 million children die in the country every year due to under-nutrition. In addition, malnutrition also increases the risk of infectious diseases and eventually leads to impaired growth among children.
Research has revealed that 159 million children are stunted and around 240 million others are at the risk of developing growth impairment. Moreover, the chances of a child surviving under these circumstances in the first five years of his/her life also appear slim. Almost 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of five occur due to malnutrition.
In Pakistan, the situation has intensified as malnutrition is widespread among all ages – more specifically among children under the age of five. If recent statistics are anything to go by, 46 percent of children are suffering from under-nutrition, over one-third of children are underweight, and 10 percent are at the risk of wasting.
The prevalence of anaemia and iron deficiencies is also a leading cause of malnutrition among children as well as mothers. Despite these factors, there is limited awareness about addressing the challenges posed by malnutrition. Even the initiatives taken by the social sector and the government to deal with the matter over the years have been slow in yielding results.
More often than not, people tend to confuse hunger with malnutrition. However, both concepts are separate from one another. Malnutrition is a form of hidden hunger as the person who is suffering from it might not even feel hungry. It occurs when the body doesn’t obtain enough micronutrients, such as essential minerals and vitamins. This can affect children in many ways. In more severe cases, it could lead to death.
There are major differences between the nutritional outcomes of urban and rural areas and children under the age of five in urban poor and rural areas are at a greater risk of suffering from under-nutrition. Moreover, the availability of fortified food in such areas and greater awareness about this phenomenon is also a challenge that needs to be addressed.
The global health community concedes that food fortification is an effective way to counter malnutrition. Food fortification can be achieved by ensuring that a mother and child have access to a diet rich in nutrients. Unfortunately, Pakistan belongs to a part of the world that is suffering from chronic food insecurity. Therefore, the struggle to implement such a diet takes a backseat because parents are not aware of how critical this issue is.
If focused steps are not taken at targeted levels, lack of awareness about malnutrition will continue to pose a looming threat. Malnutrition comes in many forms and children can have various forms of nutritional disorder.
Blood iron deficiency is a common form of nutritional disorder that occurs due to a poor diet. Statistics have revealed that around one-third of children living in developing countries are suffering from Vitamin-A deficiencies.
WHO has revealed that “every year around 250,000 to 500,000 children [who] suffer from Vitamin-A deficiency become blind and half of them die within a year of losing their sight”. Iodine is another essential micronutrient. Around 18 million babies across the world are born mentally impaired because their mothers didn’t have sufficient iodine intake. As a result, the child is born with iodine deficiency and impaired mental growth.
The lack of these micronutrients puts a healthy body and mind in an alarming situation. It is imperative for the future of Pakistan and its people that various nutrition programmes that mainly focus on diversifying food are made available for the people.
Moreover, there is a pressing need to draw attention to nutritional challenges and educate parents about accessing and consuming food that is rich in nutrients. This will not only work to their benefit, but will also remove any nutritional challenges faced by their children.