Sylhet division has the highest rate of children suffering from malnutrition and stunted growth, followed by Chittagong, though their poverty rates are among the lowest in the country.
At least 44.6 percent children below the age of five in Sylhet have stunted growth, while 38.5 percent are underweight, according to a new study titled “Undernutrition Maps of Bangladesh 2012”.
In Chittagong, 42.1 percent children are suffering from stunted growth and 36.8 percent are underweight, as per the analysis based on the data from the Population and Housing Census 2011, Child and Mother Nutrition Survey 2012 and Health and Morbidity Status Survey 2012.
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and World Food Programme (WFP) unveiled the study report at Bangabandhu International Convention Centre in the capital yesterday. They prepared the report with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and technical assistance from Massey University of New Zealand.
The findings are interesting, as according to Bangladesh Poverty Maps 2010 Rangpur and Barisal divisions have the highest poverty rates while Chittagong and Sylhet divisions have the lowest.
The report says dietary intake, maternal and childcare practices, water, sanitation and health services are the key factors behind child nutrition.
“Malnutrition is not limited to poor households,” said Kayenat Kabir, an economist at WFP, while presenting the report.
First 1,000 days of a child are critical as the way they are fed at the time has a major impact on their health. Besides, secondary education of the mother is significant for better child health, Kabir said.
Sylhet and Chittagong might not have fared well than Barisal and Khulna regarding feeding infants, she said.
The latest malnutrition study that covered upazilas for the first time says 300 out of 544 upazilas of the country have seen 40 percent of their children suffer from stunted growth while more than 30 percent children in another 440 upazilas are underweight.
The critical threshold level regarding stunted growth set by the World Health Organisation is 40 percent and for underweight, 30 percent.
The upazilas surrounding the divisional cities of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi have the lowest rates of stunted children.
District-wise, Bandarban of Chittagong division has the highest 47.7 percent stunted children, followed by Sunamganj of Sylhet at 46.1 percent.
Dhaka district has the lowest rates of stunted and underweight children.
Though the rates are low in Dhaka, they are huge in numbers because of the population density, said Prof Stephen Haslett of Massey University.
A 2012 study says malnutrition costs Bangladesh more than Tk 7,000 crore annually in terms of lost productivity, and even more in health care costs.
According to the population census, some 15 million children are under five. It is a matter of concern if 40 percent of them face malnutrition, experts say.
M A Mannan, MP, state minister for finance and planning, said upazila-level malnutrition maps would serve as a valuable planning tool in targeting the areas lagging behind in terms of child nutrition.
WFP representative Christa Räder said reasons behind malnutrition were not the same in all areas and so the solutions would be manifold.
Hubert Boirard, country programme manager of IFAD, expressed the hope that the data would be crucial in making decisions and investments in nutrition-focused programmes.
Another study on impacts of climate-related shocks on food security and nutrition in rural Bangladesh says food prices go higher in the affected areas, having negative impacts on nutritional status.
It suggested that the government and international development agencies should take well integrated measures in climate change-focused programmes to ensure food security and nutrition of the affected people.
The study was conducted by Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, Helen Keller International and the UK-based Institute of Development Studies with support from WFP and IFAD.