An estimated 2.6 crore people in Bangladesh are suffering from malnutrition, a FAO expert said yesterday.
"Though Bangladesh has made progress over the years, the number of people facing malnutrition is very high," said Naoki Minamiguchi, chief technical advisor of the Meeting the Under-nutrition Challenge (MUCH) project of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangladesh.
Stunting of children under five has come down to 36 percent now from 60 percent in 1996. However, the government target is to bring the rate down to 25 percent by 2020.
Besides, the proportion of overweight women has increased to 39 percent in 2014 from 3 percent in 1996, he said, in a presentation at a seminar on food systems and nutrition in Bangladesh at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the capital.
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) organised it in partnership with the ministry of food, the Netherlands embassy, Unicef, FAO, World Food Programme, and icddr,b.
Experts observed that the country made progress in food security, but access to safe and affordable healthy diets for achieving good nutrition remained a challenge.
Greater efforts both by the government and private sectors are imperative to achieve the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals that place greater emphasis on dietary diversity, address the challenges of purchasing power, quality and safe food, and women empowerment.
Nutrition scientist Dr Tahmeed Ahmed of icddr,b said a lack of hygiene and poor sanitation, coupled with the poor socio-economic status of households, played a major part in child malnutrition.
Low birth weight is another cause of concern, he said. Babies born under weight make up 26 percent of the total births in Bangladesh, and it is linked to malnutrition among adolescent girls and mothers, he added.
The urban poor, especially in the slums, are at greater risks of malnutrition, he said.
Food contamination and junk food consumption constitute another major concern, he added.
The scientist said malnutrition raised the risks of hypertension, diabetes, and chronic diseases. "We need to find alternative and effective ways of improving this situation."
Food Minister Quamrul Islam said the government had prioritised food security and nutrition for all under the Vision 2021 and SDGs.
State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki highlighted the inter-ministerial efforts to improve nutrition of children, women, and adolescents.
GAIN Executive Director Dr Lawrence Haddad stressed dialogue between public and private stakeholders and collective action in solving the "pressing challenge of nutrition".