Low intake of right kinds of food such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and high intake of wrong kinds of food like sodium appear to be a cause for concern for the public health in Bangladesh.
A recent study conducted by The Lancet, a prestigious international medical journal, suggests that one in four deaths in Bangladesh is associated with poor diets.
Other studies including those by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation indicate that Bangladeshis take less-than-necessary quantities of right kinds of food, causing premature deaths.
According to The Lancet’s study, titled the Global Burden of Disease, published in May, 26 per cent of deaths among adults in Bangladesh are attributable to dietary risks.
The Lancet research evaluated the trends in consumption of 15 dietary factors from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries and found that the deaths caused by poor diets were increasing in Bangladesh: going up from13.3 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in 2017.
Among the 15 dietary risk factors evaluated, low intake of fruits topped the chart of the risks in Bangladesh, followed by low intake of vegetables, high intake of sodium, low intake of whole grains and low intake of nuts and seeds.
Another recent study, jointly carried out by the WHO and the health ministry of Bangladesh, corresponds to the grim picture arising out of the poor diet among Bangladeshis.
The study, unveiled by the health ministry in the last week of May, has found that about 90 per cent of Bangladeshis take less than five servings of fruits and vegetables, an amount globally considered as ideal intake of fruits and vegetables.
A serving of fruits is equal to a moderate-sized mango and a serving of vegetables is equal to a medium-sized cup of vegetables.
The study has found that over 48 per cent of Bangladeshis have the unhealthy dietary behaviour of adding salt to their foods.
The poor dietary habit is one of the leading causes of non-communicable diseases and 97 per cent of Bangladeshis are at the risks of NCDs, the study says.
According to the WHO, at least 5,72,600 people in Bangladesh annually die premature deaths because of non-communicable diseases.
Non-communicable diseases are estimated to account for 67 per cent of all deaths in the country, it says.
The dietary risk factors have remained prevalent in Bangladesh over the years, according to the study.
The health data at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, showed that malnutrition and poor diet are the top two risk factors that drive more deaths and disability in Bangladesh.
IHME evaluated the trend from 2007 to 2017 and has found that deaths due to malnutrition remains at the top of the chart since 2007 and dietary risks have increased by over 25 per cent over this period, pushing up Bangladesh from third place to second place of the risk chart.
BIRDEM’s head of nutrition Shamsun Naher Mohua told New Age that the study affirmed what many thought for several years.
She has said that unbalanced diets cannot be healthy but people in Bangladesh take unbalanced diets and specifically emphasise high intake of rice.
Shamsun Naher has said that low intake of fruits and vegetables causes micronutrient deficiency that leads to many diseases and disabilities and premature deaths.
The FAO 2018 report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world showed that the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population of Bangladesh was 15.2 per cent and about 2.5 crore people in Bangladesh were undernourished.
Shamsun Naher has viewed that people’s nutrition awareness and their access to diversified foods is crucial.
‘Bangladesh is enriched with verities of highly nutritious fruits and vegetables and people have to take those to lead a healthy life,’ she has said.
International Food Policy Research Institute country representative Akhter Ahmed told New Age that Bangladesh was not focused on production of diversified crops that ensure nutrition.
‘Bangladesh is more focused on producing rice but dietary diversity is a key to promoting food system for healthier diets,’ he said.
Another reason is, he has said, all people cannot buy fruits or vegetables because of poverty and the policy makers should work on how to resolve the problem.
When asked, health minister Zahid Maleque said that ensuring nutrition for all the population through dietary diversity could not be ensured by the health ministry alone.
Considering the nutrition status of Bangladeshis, the multi-sectoral National Plan of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025, led by the health ministry, was rolled out in 2017 to improve the overall nutrition situation of Bangladesh, he said.
The plan of action involves other relevant ministries like agriculture, foods, fisheries and livestock, he said.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Miscellany