Malnutrition in Bangladesh remains a severe problem, especially for women and children.
According to the United Nations, 33 percent of Bangladeshi adolescent girls are anemic and micronutrient deficient and 25 percent of women ages 15-44 are unhealthily thin for their height. About 48 percent of Bangladeshi children are malnourished and 1.5 million of them die each year from diarrhea that both worsens and is worsened by malnutrition.
A variety of factors cause malnutrition in Bangladesh, the two most prominent being poverty and food insecurity. These two problems limit one’s ability to live on a diet that provides all the nutrients necessary for healthy living, leading to malnutrition.
The country has high levels of absolute poverty, with nearly 50 million of its people unable to obtain food, clothing or shelter. Thus, even while Bangladesh has managed to reduce poverty by 50 percent since 1971, almost one-third of the population is still impoverished. Poverty is in turn exacerbated by a major distress to Bangladesh: natural disasters.
Consider the food crisis of 1974-75. A deluge destroyed two rice crops in a row, robbing heavily impoverished rural populations of their main source of income. In addition, the lack of rice contributed to malnutrition on an extreme scale. One in four children became “third-degree malnourished,” meaning they were less than 60 percent of a median weight-for-age measure.
Even more problematic, natural disasters in Bangladesh have been described as “frequent,” though not all have been as devastating as the ’74 flood.
In addition to and as a result of poverty, the people of Bangladesh suffer from high levels of food insecurity. The recently released Global Food Security Index (GFSI) ranked Bangladesh 88th out of 109 countries and reported that Bangladesh’s decline in food security was the ninth fastest in the world.
The Bangladeshi diet has the lowest share of non-starchy foods of all the countries studied in the GFSI. This indicates very poor nutrition and diet diversification, which of course induce micronutrient deficiencies.
Other causes of malnutrition in Bangladesh include the fact that many Bangladeshi mothers were never taught proper child-rearing behaviors; in addition, mothers often lack access to health services that are necessary to secure the health of their children.
Despite all of these problems, there is hope. Rates of childhood malnutrition have fallen recently, albeit gradually. In the past 15 years, vitamin A deficiencies among Bangladeshi children have been significantly reduced.
Also, income levels in Bangladesh are on the rise. Typically, this correlates with a decline in malnutrition, and while some South Asian countries mysteriously lack this correlation, Bangladesh is not one of them.
As International Food Policy Research Institute researcher Derek Headey noted in his 2013 study: “From 1997 to 2007, Bangladesh recorded one of the fastest prolonged reductions in child underweight and stunting prevalence in recorded history, 1.1. and 1.3 percentage points per year, respectively.”
Thus, while malnutrition in Bangladesh continues to be a major problem, some signs suggest the country is heading in the right direction for attacking that problem. Moreover, if the country’s overall food security increases somehow, a major reduction in malnutrition may follow.
– Ryan Yanke
Sources: The Hunger Project, JSTOR, FAO, World Food Programme, International Food Policy Research Institute, Global Food Security Index, NHS, Bread for the World, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Photo: Axis of Logic