Food and Nutrition Scenario in Pakistan
Food security according to World Food Summit, is defined as “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, and to meet their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life”. The three areas underlying this definition are adequacy of food, ample access to food and reliability of both supply and access. Being an agricultural country, Pakistan is not a food insecure country. It generally has the economic ability to grow and if necessary import the required food. The real problem lies with the access of food to the people because of poverty. Today, about 42 million people in Pakistan lack adequate income to purchase the food they need for a healthy life. The fact that about one third of the population doesn’t have access to food needed for adequate nutrition is manifested by the wise spread incidence of malnutrition (United Nations Statement on Food Security in Pakistan 2000). A National Nutrition Survey conducted during 2001-2002 to ascertain the recent benchmark of the nutritional status of women and children indicated that about 38% of the children between the age of six months to five years are under weight while 36.8% are stunted. 12.5 % of women are malnourished while it is 16.1% in the case of lactating mothers. Similarly, nearly half of the population is suffering from the micronutrient deficiencies i.e., iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc. All this ultimately leads to impaired immunity, diminished strength, vitality and lower mental and physical activity. Like wise, a large number of infectious diseases such as respiratory and intestinal infections remain responsible for up to 50% of deaths of children under five, with malnutrition being an aggravating factor especially in the most populated areas.
Another segment of malnutrition prevailing rapidly in our urban population is over nutrition. Over nutrition is an excess of calories or excess/imbalance of nutrients. Overweight and obesity are the two major indicators of over nutrition. About one out of seven older adults are obese or overweight (NNS 1998). Similarly, according to the National Health Survey 2001, the prevalence of obesity among adults aged 25-64 years, moving from low to middle to high socioeconomic status in urban areas is 21%, 27% and 42% respectively.
This long-term Malnutrition in turn impairs resistance to disease, cause micronutrient deficiencies and increases the incidence of chronic or non-communicable diseases. According to the National Health Survey 1990-94, one out of every three persons over 45 years is suffering from high blood pressure. Approximately 2.7 million people have diabetes. It tends to increase with age and more prevalent in women. Over 7.3 million people in Pakistan have elevated cholesterol levels requiring medical advice and intervention using diet as the primary treatment.
Malnutrition not only affects an individual’s health but also the economic health of countries. According to the recent report by United Nations Standing Committee on World Nutrition Situation March 2004, three types of malnutrition- protein energy malnutrition, iodine deficiency and iron deficiency- cause 3-4 % GDP loss in Pakistan, while the economic costs of iron deficiency anemia is 5.2 pc of the country’s GDP.
The present situation is like unnoticed monster blocking Pakistan’s progress. Proper nutrition intervention and education can strengthen key development mechanisms and instruments such as poverty reduction strategies, health sector reforms, improving governance and human rights, and trade liberalization. Nutritionists and food scientists can play a key role in creating awareness among the community and suggest solutions of these identified problems.
More detail can be obtained from the following presentations:
1. An Overview of Food, Health and Nutrition Situation in Pakistan by
Prof. Dr. Perveen Liaqat, Chairperson, Home and Health Sciences,
2. An Overview of Food and Nutrition Situation in Pakistan by
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Akmal Khan, Director Monitoring and Evaluation,
Tawana Pakistan, Islamabad
3. National Nutrition Survey 1985-87
4. National Health Survey of Pakistan 1990-94
5. National Nutrition Survey of Pakistan 2001-02