40% under-5 Pakistani children are stunted: survey
Despite improvements in other socioeconomic indicators, acute malnutrition remains in a state of nutrition emergency.
Four out of 10 Pakistani children under five years of age are stunted while 17.7% suffer from wasting. The double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost 1 in 3 children underweight (28.9%). The prevalence of overweight among children under-five has almost doubled over seven years, increasing from 5% in 2011 to 9.5% in 2018, reveals the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2018.
The survey, which was disseminated at an event organized by the Ministry of National Services here on Monday, assesses the nutritional status of children under five, adolescent girls, and women of child bearing age, including pregnant and lactating women. Being the largest-ever nutrition survey, it is designed to provide policymakers with district-specific nutrition-related that will help develop evidence-based policies to address the root causes of malnutrition in Pakistan.
The event was attended by Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza as chief guest. He was flanked by Director General of Health Dr. Assad Hafeez, the Country Representative of UNICEF Aida Girma-Melaku, the Head of DFID-Pakistan Joanna Reid, the principal investigator of the survey Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta from Aga Khan University, and the Director of Nutrition Dr. Baseer Achakzai. According to the survey, the findings of which were disseminated by Dr. Bhutta, stunting is a major problem in Pakistan, with 12 million children with low height for age. The prevalence of stunting at 40.2% remains at a global critical level, varying from 32.6% in ICT to 48.3% in KP-NMD. The average annual reduction rate is estimated at 0.5%, too slow to significantly reduce the stunting rate in Pakistan.
Since 1997, the commonness of wasting is on the rise, from 8.6% in 1997 to 15.1% in 2011 and 17.7% in 2018. Despite improvements in other socioeconomic indicators, acute malnutrition remains in a state of nutrition emergency, the survey states. This is the highest rate of wasting in Pakistan’s history. This form of malnutrition is most prevalent in Sindh (23.3%) and KP-NMD (23.1%), whereas GB and ICT have the lowest proportion of children with wasting, at 9.4% and 12.1% respectively. The prevalence of underweight among children under five years of age (i.e. weight for age below 2 z-score) is high in all provinces/regions, from 19.2% in ICT to 41.3% in Sindh. The survey estimates the proportion of overweight children under five to be 9.5%. Prevalence is highest in KP-NMD (18.7%) and Balochistan (16.7%), and lowest in Sindh (5.2%) and ICT (5.8%).
According to NNS 2018, more than half (53.7%) of Pakistani children are anemic and 5.7% are severely anemic. The prevalence of anemia has been consistently high since 2001 when it stood at 50.9%, then rose to 61.9% in 2011, and declined to 53.7% in 2018. The prevalence of iron deficiency anemia is 28.6%, that of zinc deficiency is 18.6%, and that of Vitamin A deficiency is 51.5%. The survey has found that 12.7% children in Pakistan have a functional disability in one of these six domains: around 1.2% demonstrates functional disability in seeing, 1.5% in hearing, 2.6% in walking, 4.5% in remembering, 8.5% in self-care and 5.6% in communication
The survey also states that women of reproductive age in Pakistan bear a double burden of malnutrition. One in seven (14.4%) are undernourished, a decline from 18% in 2011 to 14%, while overweight and obesity are increasing. In NNS 2011 28% were reported to be overweight or obese, rising to 37.8% 2018. Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Zafar Mirza announced that the start of a process leading to the development of a National Nutritional Action Plan.