Building a foundation for lifelong health
Millions of children, adolescents and mothers in Bangladesh are malnourished.
The consequences of inadequate care and repeated infections, paired with not getting enough nutrients from a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, and protein such as eggs, fish, meat, and pulses can be long-lasting. It can lead to impaired growth and development, known as “stunting”, and to severe thinness, which is known as “wasting”. On the other end of the malnutrition spectrum is overweight and obesity, which hampers the lives of more and more children and adolescents.
In Bangladesh, 28 per cent of children under 5 are stunted while 10 per cent suffer from wasting. Children who are malnourished have low immunity to disease and are more susceptible to infections. They often struggle with concentration and focus, which makes it difficult for them to learn.
Some children are at more risk of malnutrition than others. Those born in urban slums, tea gardens or the Rohingya refugee camps, to the poorest families and with uneducated mothers, are more likely to suffer from stunting and wasting.
In Bangladesh, 51 per cent of women and girls are married before the age of 18. High levels of early marriage means significantly increased chances of early pregnancy. Early pregnancy often leads to low birth weight, which is still as high as 15 per cent in Bangladesh.
It is recommended that newborns are put to the breast within the first hour of life but in Bangladesh, early initiation of breastfeeding is only 47 per cent. Just 63 per cent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed, and only 28 per cent of children older than six months receive an appropriate diet. Families are often either too poor, or do not know how, to give their children a healthy diet. This combination of low birth weight and poor infant and young child feeding practices increases the chances of both stunting and wasting.
Micronutrient deficiency is thereby still a public health issue among young children and pregnant women. Prevention of maternal anaemia is critical to the health and nutrition of mothers and their babies. Yet less than 2 per cent of expectant adolescent girls in Bangladesh receive iron and folic acid tablets to help them ensure healthy pregnancies.
Good nutrition is one of the building blocks for economic development. Stunting disrupts the critical ‘grey matter infrastructure’ – brain development – that builds futures and economies. Investing in this infrastructure supports human development throughout life and enhances mental and productive capacity, offering a $16 return for every $1 invested. Nutrition is linked to GDP growth: the prevalence of stunting declines by an estimated 3.2 per cent for every 10 per cent increase in income per capita, and a 10 per cent rise in income translates into a 7.4 per cent fall in wasting.
To support improved care for pregnant and lactating women, infants, young children and adolescents, UNICEF is supporting the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen the quality and the coverage of nutrition services, including growth monitoring, adequate counselling, and micronutrient supplementation.
This includes supporting the development and implementation of policies based on reliable evidence; planning and coordination across relevant sectors and stakeholders; helping to foster public-private partnerships and providing advocacy and monitoring support and financial tracking to monitor the level of investments in nutrition systematically and continuously.
UNICEF provides technical assistance to strengthen community outreach to ensure more infants, children, women, and adolescents, especially the most vulnerable, have access to the quality nutrition services they need, including in times of climate-related disasters and emergencies. This is done through increased engagement with the community through different platforms to raise awareness and increase access to services to prevent all forms of malnutrition.
Moreover, UNICEF works with partners to scale up the early detection and treatment of wasting in children under the age of 2. To this end, programming support is focused on hard-to-reach parts of the country, such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts, tea gardens, haor or flood plains, urban slums, and Rohingya refugee camps.