Pakistan lags way behind in ensuring a healthy diet for a large part of its population. Young children and pregnant or breastfeeding women are the main categories of people prone to malnutrition.
Malnutrition is thus one of our most pressing challenges. Disasters compound the problem of malnutrition, as seen in the aftermath of last year’s floods.
The deficiency of micronutrients leads to complications during pregnancy, and later, malnourished newborns. Increased iron needs during these periods and decreased iron intake and absorption appear to be the most significant causes.
Other effects of malnutrition are poor physical and cognitive development, impaired growth, frequent illnesses, fatigue, shortness of breath, poor school performance, and reduced capacity to work even later in life.
The cost of the lost future workforce in Pakistan due to underweight children and micronutrient deficiency is $2.24 billion per year. Cognitive deficits derived from childhood stunting, anemia, and iodine deficiency disorders result in reduced future adult productivity, which is valued at a Net Present Value of $3.7bn per year.
Pakistan’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as well as manual labor. The report indicates that anemia in men and women who are engaged in agriculture and manual labor will lower their economic output by $657 million per year.
A lack of adequate nutritious and diversified diet, low nutrition knowledge, early marriage, genetic factors, and government failures to ensure food and nutrition security are, as experts say, responsible for stunting and low BMI in children and adolescents.
The nutrition status of the adult is not much different as an average Pakistani consumes about 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of eggs, milk, fruits, and pulses. The government must ensure nutrition for the disadvantaged.
Malnutrition in children and adolescents is a big challenge to building a healthy and economically productive population. It must attend to overlapping issues of malnutrition, food security, and poverty reduction.
Unless all the people are able to take benefits of economic policies and pulled out of poverty, the prevalence of malnutrition and its consequences will continue to affect a large number of children, adolescents, and the adult. The government must also take programs to make people aware of the importance of nutrition-rich diets.
Economic problems, especially inflation amid record unemployment, also feed into this nutrition crisis. The rising food prices and limited livelihood options further exacerbate the challenge of accessing food.
The situation is likely to worsen between November 2023 and January 2024. An estimated 11.8 million people may experience high levels of acute food insecurity. That is why the latest FAO-WFP hunger hotspots report also identifies Pakistan as one of the regions of high concern.
With the political and economic situation squeezing household incomes, and the cash-strapped government unable to throw much money into such problems, there is no hope to address these issues.
More than half the children all over the country are born with defects, and many of them die in infancy because of easily avoidable problems like malnutrition. It is simply unacceptable.
Thanks are due to UNICEF, whose work in nutrition is supporting our mandate to protect child rights, in particular the right to adequate nutrition, as well as children’s right to develop to their full potential. In so doing, nutrition interventions are also positively affecting both child survival and child development, with a focus on the critical first years of life.
Such issues must be too high on the priority list of the government. The right nutrition at the right time is essential for a child’s survival, health, and development. Well-nourished children are much more equipped to grow and learn, act as productive members of society, and respond well in combatting disease, disasters, and other global crises.