The nutrition dilemma

There is a need to find multipronged solutions to Pakistan’s nutrition dilemma

The nutrition dilemma


uring the first quarter of the 21st Century, global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. Yet, the global community is grappling with multiple burdens of malnutrition. The world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion people. Still, nearly a billion people sleep hungry every night.

Nutrition is a large-scale and universal problem despite significant steps the world has taken over the last two decades towards improving nutrition and reducing associated health burdens. The Global Nutrition Report 2021 disclosed a plethora of grim figures, such as the fact that worldwide, 149.2 million children under five years of age are stunted, 45.4 million are wasted and 38.9 million are overweight. As surveyed by the report, 82 per cent of countries face a serious burden of two or three forms of malnutrition.

The nutrition dilemma

The Global Nutrition Report 2022 shared an alarming update that almost every country in the world faces a nutrition problem, whether stemming from under-nutrition or obesity. Around 40 per cent of all adults and 20 per cent of all children are now overweight or obese.

The report also stated that the number of people affected by hunger has increased by 150 million since the Covid-19 outbreak, rising from 618 million in 2019 to 768 million in 2021. The number of those unable to afford a healthy diet rose by 112 million to 3.1 billion in 2020. This means that almost a third (29.3 percent) of the world’s population, was moderately or severely food insecure in 2021, up from 25.4 percent before the pandemic.

According to the World Food Program-USA, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s hungriest people live in Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Haiti and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, malnutrition is widespread among all age groups. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, four out of ten children under five years of age are stunted; 17.7 per cent suffer from wasting. The double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost one in three children underweight (28.9 percent) alongside a high prevalence of overweight (9.5 percent) children in the same age group. The prevalence of obesity among children under five has almost doubled over seven years, increasing from five per cent in 2011 to 9.5 per cent in 2018. More than half (53.7 percent) of Pakistani children are anaemic; and 5.7 per cent are severely anaemic.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation claimed that no country in the world fully meets the recommended breastfeeding standards. Only 23 countries out of 194 have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 per cent. In Pakistan, the ratio stands at a meagre 18 percent for early initiation of breastfeeding and at 37.7 per cent for mothers who practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Compliance with early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding and complimentary breastfeeding for two years could significantly reduce stunting in Pakistan.

Even as an infant grows older, milk remains an important part of a nutrient-rich diet essential for growth and development, body maintenance and protection from both infectious and non-communicable diseases in adult life. Dairy products can also contribute to promoting child growth and are frequently a vital component in specially formulated foods for therapeutic feeding of malnourished children.

As a concentrated source of macro and micronutrients, milk and dairy products can play a particularly important role in human nutrition in developing countries, where the diets of poor people frequently lack diversity. Milk and dairy programmes have potential to improve human nutrition worldwide. Various studies have found dairy production and agriculture programmes to be more effective in improving nutrition if more awareness is created on the nutritional value of milk. Dairy offers compelling opportunities, such as the prospect of simultaneously improving nutrition and reducing poverty, aided by the generally positive public perception of milk.

Although milk is an ideal source of nutrients, it is vital to ensure that the milk consumed is hygienic and nutritious. What people eat, and their food environments play a crucial role in deciding whether they are at risk of under-nutrition or obesity. This includes the production of food, how food is transformed and processed through the system, its distribution and trade and how it is made available to people through retail and other means. As milk is highly vulnerable to contamination, quality degradation must be avoided during collection, transportation, storage and retailing.

Perversely, 95 percent of the milk consumed in Pakistan is unprocessed, unhygienic and unregulated, leading to nutritional disorders. Packaged milk value chain eliminates these risks through quality checks that are conducted at various levels and the aseptic processing and packaging technology, including the UHT process, eliminates bacteria and other impurities without loss of essential nutrients. Due to reasons like prevalent misconceptions, the adoption of packaged milk in Pakistan has been low. Encouraging the consumption of packaged, UHT-treated milk instead of loose milk can be one of the ways to combat malnutrition.

The writer is the managing director of Tetra Pak, Pakistan

The nutrition dilemma