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September 14, 2018

Only 15% children receive diet for effective growth


September 14, 2018

Islamabad : Inappropriate and poor complementary feeding practices are a major cause of under-nutrition and the foremost driver of stunting in Pakistan—a country where a critically low 15% of the children aged 6 to 23 months are receiving minimum acceptable diet for effective growth and development, states the National Complementary Feeding Assessment (NCFA) study released here.

The study, which was launched by the Ministry of National Health Services in collaboration with DFID and UNICEF, provides an in-depth analysis on feeding practices, related barriers and boosters, as well as guidance to improve the said practices. One of its aims is to determine the factors contributing to adverse complementary feeding practices and the nutritional status of children aged 6-23 months.

According to NCFA, 63% of the children aged 6-23 months received Minimum Meal Frequency (when a child eats the minimum recommended number of meals per day based on age and breastfeeding status); 22% received Minimum Dietary Diversity (when a child eats from more than 4 out of 7 WHO-recommended food groups in a day), and 15% received Minimum Acceptable Diet (when a child receives an adequate number of means with at least 4 different types of WHO recommended food groups). In Pakistan, the consumption of grains, roots and tubers was found to be highest (81%) while the consumption of legumes and nuts was lowest (6%) among children aged 6-23 months.

The NCFA points to rare sonsumption of several nutrient-rich food groups; fewer than one in five children consume legumes, meat of fish, or Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables. Common risk factors for suboptimal child feeding are poverty and limited access to health and nutrition services in the community. This underlines the need to improve the capacity of programmes, health professionals, and community workers to support good complementary feeding practices.

Lack of information has been a key bottleneck in reversing the trend. For the first time in Pakistan, extensive data on diets has now been compiled, offering comprehensive understanding of the challenges in optimal diets of children. The study provides enough evidence to work on the improvement of feeding practices for children through programming on complementary feeding.

In tracing the association between complementary feeding practices and malnutrition, the study informs that children who were not stunted consumed more dairy products (60%), other fruits and vegetables (40%), eggs (31%) and meat (20%) as compared to stunted children (55%, 31%, 23% and 17%, respectively).

Addressing the gathering, Deputy Country Representative of UNICEF Cristian Munduate offered support in the development of a National Dietary Diversity Strategy and Plan to improve diets of young children in Pakistan. “UNICEF will continue provincial and district level sensitization workshops on study findings to utilize available data for informed nutrition programming,” she stated.

Head of Basic Services Group, DFID, Ruth Lawson said, “Pakistan’s poorest and the most vulnerable children need our attention as the consequences of malnourishment in infancy and childhood will persist throughout their lives.” She expressed confidence that the data will lead towards better nutrition programming in Pakistan.

Nutrition Director in the Ministry of Health Dr. Baseer Achakzai said, “Addressing malnutrition is the top priority of the new government and all out efforts are being made in this respect, including major decisions in planning for different interventions.” He added that improvement of breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices to address malnutrition, especially stunting and wasting, will be the driving force of these interventions.

Representatives of provincial governments, diplomatic community, the UN and DFID were also present on the occasion.

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