The two four-year-old boys are twins living in Rangpur. They developed a taste for chips, chocolates and various soft drinks at a very early age. Now they often want these foods instead of normal food even at breakfast. The mother of the two children objected that it has become difficult to keep them away from such food.

Breast milk is the main food for the baby at birth. Nutritionists and paediatricians advise giving the baby homemade balanced and nutritious diet after six months of age. But reality is different. According to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2022, about 50 per cent of the children between the ages of 6 and 23 months consume soft drinks, processed food high in added salt and sugar.

These foods are identified as unhealthy in the survey itself. Doctors, nutritionists and researchers also expressed similar opinion. According to them, the situation is grave. This junk food makes children obese and causes various diseases.

Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2022 was released in April. The National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) conducted the survey. Various facts and figures were collected from 30,375 families of the country in the survey. They collected data related to food intake of 2,578 children aged 6 to 23 months.

The survey revealed that 32 per cent of children had soft drinks the day before the survey while 49 per cent of children consumed junk food high in sugar and salt.

NIPORT director (Research) Mohammad Ahsanul Alam told Prothom Alo on Tuesday that soft drinks refer to various types of 'carbonated' drinks and processed fruit juices. Foods with added sugar and salt include various 'junk food' such as chips, chanachur (local deep fried snack), instant noodles and burgers.

NIPORT's report uses the definition of unhealthy foods presented by World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF as these foods contain excessive salt, sugar and fat.

When asked why the survey chose to collect data of children aged 6 to 23 months, Ahsanul Alam said, “Children should be given normal food from the age of six months. Children of this age have been selected for the survey to know what is actually being fed to these children in reality.”

Analysing the birth rate, mortality rate and population of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), professor Mohammad Mainul Islam of Department of Population Sciences of Dhaka University told Prothom Alo that the number of children aged 6 months to 2 years in Bangladesh may be 4.7 million.

According to NIPORT survey rates, more than 2.3 million children eat unhealthy foods.

What these foods contain

Dhaka University pharmacy department professor Sitesh Chandra Bachar told Prothom Alo that the artificial drinks that children drink in Bangladesh contain a lot of sugar and preservatives. Preservatives and sweeteners also contain various harmful ingredients, which lead to abnormal physical growth of the child.

Chips, burgers and instant noodles use excessive salt. Professor Sitesh Chandra Bachar said that intake of foods with added salt at a young age can cause harmful reactions in the child's body. He also said that excess salt in children's bodies can cause them to have high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Citing that children who grow up eating such unhealthy foods, fall at risk of contracting various diseases including diabetes in their adulthood, he said, because of their food habits in the childhood, many children are inviting diseases in adulthood. It's terrible.

Parents who are aware of this danger try to keep their children away fromsuch foods. But a parent also spoke about their helplessness. For example, Sajedul Islam (pseudonym) of Uttara in the capital has a two-year-old child. Sajedul said, “Whenever I go out, my son takes me to the shop. I keep hiding soft drinks in the fridge. He sneaks it from there. He is crazy about chips and chanachur.”

Risk of five ‘C’

Researchers say that cognitive and physical growth happen in the first three years in a child. For this they need balanced food.

Professor and pediatrician Abid Hossain Mollah told Prothom Alo that the five foods with letter ‘C’ are now becoming the most chosen food for children. Those are chips, chanachur, chocolate, chewing gum and chutney which are contrary to balanced diet. These foods block their appetite.

Abid Hossain Molla said that changing eating habits may pose three major problems to children. Those are anaemia due to iron deficiency, constipation and vitamin D deficiency. This physician said that many children from poor families suffer from anaemia due to lack of balanced food. But it appears that it is now affecting children from well-off families.

Children do not consume nutritious food as they fill themselves with unhealthy food. Professor Abid Hossain Molla mentioned that it causes constipation and vitamin deficiency.

He said, parents should be aware to keep their children away from these foods. Campaigns are required to make parents aware of the threat.