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17m women are malnourished in Bangladesh: Study

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 17 August, 2022 12:00 AM
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17m women are malnourished in Bangladesh: Study

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Around 17 million women aged 15-49 years are malnourished in Bangladesh, which is alarming as the malnourishment may affect women’s health and reproductive capacity, says a study.

The findings of the study were unveiled at a programme at icddr,b headquarters in Mohakhali of the capital on Tuesday. 

icddr,b and Data for Impact (D4I), a data-driven initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, jointly organized the event with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The findings were presented by Shusmita Khan, Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist of Data for Impact (D4I), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and M. Moinuddin Ahmed, Associate Scientist, Health Systems and Population Studies Division (HSPSD), icddr,b.

Increased weight among women of reproductive age is a concern because, in Bangladesh, there are about 3.4 million births occur annually and currently, around 0.9 million of these births occur to overweight or obese women, and 0.5 million births occur to underweight women.

 If the current trend in malnutrition continues, pregnancies/births among overweight women will increase. Both forms of malnutrition pose a greater risk for maternal and child health: underweight mothers are at risk of having anaemia, antepartum or postpartum haemorrhage, and premature rupture of membranes.

On the contrary, maternal obesity increases the risk of perinatal complications such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and caesarean deliveries. Maternal obesity also has implications for breastfeeding, with decreased rates of initiation and reduced breastfeeding duration.

All these complications have potentially serious implications for infant survival, growth, and development, as well as intergenerational implications. 

The study said in terms of numbers, it means that currently in Bangladesh, 17 million women aged 15-49 years are malnourished — five million are underweight, and 12 million are overweight or obese.

It said if this trend persists, linear projections indicate that about 46 per cent of ever-married women of reproductive age will be overweight or obese by 2030.

The study said the double burden of malnutrition among Bangladeshi women of reproductive age and how and why it is important to reassess the country’s maternal and child health programs and policies were discussed at the event.

Presenting the recent evidence based on secondary analysis of BDHS datasets for the last one decade along with policy synthesis, the study indicated a major shift in the nutritional status of women of reproductive age in the country. It said between 2007 and 2017, in addition to improvements in many human development indexes, the proportion of undernutrition (BMI <18) among Bangladeshi ever-married women aged 15–49 declined sharply from 30 percent to 12 percent, while the proportion of overweight/obese (BMI ≥25) women increased from 12 percent to 32 percent during the same period.

In addition, despite remarkable progress in reducing undernourishment among women, the share of well-nourished women remains unchanged, 58 percent in 2007 and 56 percent in 2017-18.

An analysis of the three main government policy documents related to nutrition, the Bangladesh National Strategy for Maternal Health 2019–2030, the National Nutrition Policy 2015, and the Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition 2016–2025, show that current policies concerning maternal health and nutrition are fragmentary and mostly address the issue of underweight.

The call of the hour is for national policies to address the double burden of malnutrition among women of reproductive age across pre-conception, pregnancy, and post-natal stages to ensure optimum maternal and child health.

Dr Kanta Jamil, Senior Research, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Advisor, USAID; Saiqa Siraj, Country Director of Nutrition International; Dr Shams El Arifeen, Senior Scientist, Maternal and Child Health Division (MCHD) of icddr,b attended the session as technical experts and exchanged their views with journalists on ways to overcome this challenge.