© UNICEF Bangladesh/2008/Noorani
Malnutrition leads to vitamin D deficiency which can cause rickets. A three-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong division.
Major improvements are still needed to fully protect young children from malnutrition, an underlying cause of child death. The elimination of malnutrition depends on a wide range of factors at household, community, national and international level.
There are initial indications that the food price rises is linked in some cases to increased malnutrition.
The number of infants born with low birth weight has decreased by 14 percentage points since 2004, meaning that fewer children start life at a nutritional disadvantage. Even so, close to half of all children under-five are underweight. Alarmingly wasting (low weight for height) increased from 13 per cent of under-fives in 2004 to 17 per cent in 2009. 15 per cent is the international threshold at which emergency nutrition interventions are usually implemented.
Role of mothers
Malnourished mothers give birth to underweight children. Poor breastfeeding habits – only 43 per cent of children are exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life – encourage wasting. Discrimination against women leaves mothers unable to make decisions in their own households regarding the food and health of themselves and their children.
In the face of rising food prices, insufficient nutritious food and illness continue to set the stage for malnutrition. Malnutrition is the most common in the poorest communities and in households of low educational status. Floods and other natural disasters severely compromise food security in rural areas.
Supplementation and fortification
Recent achievements combating vitamin A deficiency and iodine deficiency have considerably improved the nutritional status of children. Even so, almost two thirds of children under the age of two are anemic. Vitamin A supplementation drives reach 94 per cent of children under-two. 84 per cent of the population consumes iodized salt.
Read about UNICEF’s programmes to improve mother and child nutrition.