Undernutrition takes toll on economy: study | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 06, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 06, 2016

Undernutrition takes toll on economy: study

Bangladesh loses 2 to 3 percent of its GDP due to productivity losses from undernutrition, despite making gains in reducing hunger and malnutrition over the past two and a half decades.

A draft report of Compact2025, an initiative to end hunger and undernourishment by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) by 2025, revealed the data of gross domestic output losses. The report, shared at a roundtable yesterday, said undernutrition results is severe human and economic costs.

Undernutrition includes being underweight for one's age, too short for one's age (stunted), dangerously thin (wasted), and deficient in vitamins and minerals.

Since 1990, poverty declined while the food security situation improved leading to a fall in undernourishment and hunger. The prevalence of undernourishment fell from 32 percent in 1990-92 to 16 percent in 2014-16. The number of hungry people declined from 3.6 crore to 2.6 crore in the same period.

Similarly, there have also been improvements in child stunting, and the rate of under-five mortality also slumped in the same period.

“But more needs to be done,” said IFPRI Representative in Bangladesh Akhter Ahmed, at the programme organsied by the IFPRI at the Westin hotel in Dhaka.

In 1992, child wasting was 18 percent. It dipped to 14 percent in 2014. A significant improvement was also seen in child stunting, from 63 percent in 1992 to 26 percent in 2014. The rate of under-five mortality also slumped in the same period, he said.

Ahmed said increased knowledge on nutrition can help improve undernourishment. It will cost the state $30 to $50 per household a year to give training on nutrition, he said.

Diets here are dominated by rice although dietary diversity is needed, he said. Improved water, sanitation and hygiene are also linked with better nutrition, he added.

Bangladesh has made progress in reducing its food deficit; as of 2015, an average undernourished person would require 116 kilocalories more per day to be lifted out of hunger. The per capita supply of proteins increased slightly but still remains below the average of around 60 grams daily in South Asia, said the report. Another issue to improve the nutrition scenario is empowerment of women.

“Women empowerment is shown to improve nutrition and food security,” he said, citing an IFPRI study that shows women's empowerment in agriculture helps people move out of poverty, increase farmers' income, improve household, child, and maternal dietary diversity.

Binayak Sen, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), cited social barriers to improve nutritional aspects. One is child marriage; 65 percent of girls get married below 18 years of age, he said.

Violence against women is another factor, he added, stressing the need for economic empowerment of women through creation of jobs and creation of a gender friendly environment. He said a more integrated approach is necessary for social protection to address the issue of nutrition.

“It is the issue of knowledge. But dissemination of knowledge can be much harder than in the case of previous known successful cases of family planning and immunisation. It requires a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach.”

Shamsul Alam, member of the general economics division of the planning commission, said the government has framed the national social security strategy. “We are going for social inclusion for everyone,” he added.

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