STUNTED growth among the children in Bangladesh is now a recognised public health concern. Symptoms of stunting and malnutrition are particularly present among the children in poverty. Drawing from their research, the International Food Policy Research Institute stated that almost half of children in rural Bangladesh are stunted and has low levels of per capita milk consumption. The dairy consumption among the majority of children is less than half those of neighboring India. The IFPRI identified severe land constraints and historical unavailability of milk as the reasons behind such low consumption of dairy. An earlier study of the UN World Food Programme revealed that an alarming 44 per cent of slum children experience stunted growth and nearly one in five (16 per cent) are too thin for their height. The WFP study also said that the slum households in Dhaka (50 per cent) and nearly two thirds of slum households in Barisal (63 per cent) consume less than 2,122 kcal per capita per day. It also showed that slum households derive 63 per cent of their energy from cereals, mainly rice. Clearly, the social safety net programmes available for children in poverty have not adequately addressed the prevailing nutritional inequality.
Stunting, or short height for age, is important public health indicator. Over a third of Bangladesh’s under-five years’ old children are stunted. The experts with IFPRI draw policy level attention to increasing access to dairy products as it can be extremely beneficial to the nutrition and long-term health of children (6-23 months of age) when incorporated into a diet that includes good breastfeeding practices. They suggest that all stakeholders working to improve child health in Bangladesh must take the issue of balanced diet seriously with an emphasis on dairy consumption during the first year of a child. While considering IFPRI’s recommendation to ensure balanced diet for children, they must also look into structural reason behind the low consumption of nutrition. Many public health activists linked the low intake of milk and other nutritious food to the economic situation of the majority of the parents in rural areas and urban slums. Different reports on malnutrition among breastfeeding mothers in Bangladesh substantiated their claim. Though decreasing, yet anaemia among pregnant women is still high. Micronutrient deficiencies in iron, iodine and vitamin A among women are also a challenge. The high prevalence of childhood stunting is clear sign of nutritional inequality in Bangladesh that demands immediate attention of the government.
Reckoning with the fact that the growth in GDP is partial depiction of economic progress, the government should attend to the problem of unequal distribution of national wealth among the masses resulting into nutritional inequality. It must develop social safety net programmes for children and breastfeeding mother in poverty so their nutritional demands including proper intake of dairy food are met with. The ministry of health and family welfare along with other stakeholders must revisit their existing programmes to address nutritional inequality at large.
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