NIPORT data paints a worrying picture, calling for awareness, investment in public health
It’s alarming to know that half of the infants aged between six and 23 months in Bangladesh are consuming unhealthy and ultra-processed food. According to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2022, conducted by the National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT), the diet for 50 percent of infants contains sugar-laden beverages and foods that are high in fat or sodium content including chips, chanchur, instant noodles, burgers, etc. These were deemed unhealthy based on WHO and UNICEF guidelines. Overall, the survey says, there are more than 23 lakh children consuming unhealthy food.
Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to infants or minors. Thanks to the proliferation of packaged food in the country, most adults today consume such unhealthy items. A number of factors are responsible for this including lack of awareness, poor lifestyle choices, lack of policy regulation, and exorbitant prices of food which can restrict access to nutritious food.
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For children, the risks are always great, however. The first three years of a child’s life form the most crucial stage in their cognitive and physical development, during which they need a balanced diet. The repercussions of a poor diet in early childhood can follow them for life. In children, foods high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiac problems and obesity, and even diabetes in later stages. Unhealthy eating habits lead to an adult riddled with diseases. That, in turn, can put extra pressure on public healthcare and impede the country’s progress.
Therefore, we urge our development partners including NGOs working on nutrition and parental care to address the growing threat of infants consuming unhealthy food. Raising awareness is, of course, crucial. But it is equally important that we ensure unhindered access to healthy and unadulted food. This makes the role of our policy makers and regulators vital. We urge the government to invest more in the health sector, and not just in stages where people are already ill but earlier, when better choices can help prevent future health complications.