The grim picture of people’s unaffordability to purchase nutritious food in Bangladesh revealed by a research conducted by the Institute of Nutrition and Food Sciences and the Institute of Health Economics at the University of Dhaka is very disturbing. It said 41 per cent of the country's households could not afford to buy nutritious food. Families below the poverty line or just above that are not able to buy the necessary nutritional food. Again some people, who have the ability, buy non-nutritive or less nutritional food instead of nutritive ones.
On the other hand, a study conducted by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says that 21 million people in Bangladesh, or one in eight people, still do not have access to nutritious food. Many people are being deprived of essential nutrients due to unrestrained eating habits and lack of awareness. Due to this, 31 per cent of the children are not developing properly.
Nazma Shaheen, a professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, told Prothom Alo that some people cannot afford to buy nutritious food. Many people do not even know about the quality of food, so they cannot buy the right food even if they can afford it.
The first study cited people are suffering from three levels of malnutrition, with 28 per cent of children under the age of five in the country being stunted while eight per cent of children are underweight or severely malnourished. Forty per cent of women suffer from anaemia, meaning they suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, 16 per cent of adult males and 18 per cent of females are overweight.
Cereals (rice, wheat), lentils, vegetables (leafy vegetables and leafless vegetables) are given priority in the diet of the people of Bangladesh. On the other hand, they do not keep fruits, meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy foods in their diet. Some even consider it as an additional expenditure. The issue of healthy or nutritious food is related with financial ability.
In 2019, the poverty rate in the country was 20.5 per cent. But during the Covid period, the poverty rate has also increased along with the price of essentials. As a result, people's purchasing ability has decreased.
The area-wise findings of the study are also worrying. Sixty six per cent of the households in Khulna division cannot afford healthy food. The condition is relatively better in Chattogram division. Seventy-five per cent of households in this division can afford healthy food. Out of 64 districts, Cox's Bazar district has the best position in terms of capacity, and the worst situation is in Meherpur. Seventy-six per cent of the households in this district cannot afford healthy food. There is variance of ability between urban and rural people as well.
Food is the most basic human need. And that food must be nutritious and healthy. If we want a healthy nation in the future, we have to ensure the minimum nutrition of every citizen. Urban and rural inequalities in food procurement capacity must be eliminated. Keeping the current reality in mind, it has become urgent to formulate the necessary plan of action to ensure healthy food for all.