Poor Nutrition: Women and Children at risk in Nepal

Good nutrition is a critical part of health and development (WHO, 2012). It leads to improved child and maternal health, builds stronger immune systems, makes less susceptibility to non-communicable diseases and finally helps to break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger.

Poor nutritional status is an alarming public health problem in Nepal. Malnutrition, iron deficiency anemia and other micronutrient deficiency disorders among the children, adolescents and women are some major nutritional health problems prevailing in Nepal (WHO, 2008).

Although problems related to poor nutrition affect the entire population, women and children are especially vulnerable because of their unique physiology and socioeconomic characteristics.

The period from birth to age two is especially important to a child for optimal physical, mental, and cognitive growth, health, and development.  Adequate nutrition is the key contributor for children’s growth and development during this period. But, poor and inadequate nutrition in this period can often lead to protein-energy and micronutrient deficiencies that interfere with optimal child growth and development.

Similarly, a woman’s nutritional status has important implications for her health as well as for the health of her children. Malnutrition in women results in reduced productivity, increased susceptibility to infections, slowed recovery from illness, and a heightened risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (Zerfu & Ayele, 2013). For example, a woman with poor nutritional status, as indicated by a low body mass index (BMI), short stature, anemia, or other micronutrient deficiencies, has a greater risk of obstructed labour, of having a baby with a low birth weight, of producing low quality breast milk, of death from postpartum hemorrhage, and of morbidity for both herself and her baby (Black, 2001).

According to Nepal Demographic Health Survey (2011), malnutrition is badly impacting on growth and development of under-five children in Nepal. The number of under-five stunting and underweight children are critically high. (see graph). The survey further revealed that neither the nutritional status of Nepalese women is satisfactory.  About 18% women are malnourished and 35% of women of age 15-49 years are anaemic. In comparison to women, the prevalence of anemia among children age 6-59 months is considerably high and critical in number (46%). Child mortality, which is directly associated with nutritional status, is also very high in Nepal. One in every 22 Nepalese children dies before reaching age 1 year, and one in every 19 does not survive to his or her fifth birthday (MOHP, New ERA, & ICF, 2012).

Poverty is the most important determinant for poor nutrition in Nepal. Nepal ranks at 157th position out of 187 countries in Human Development Index with 54 percent of total population living on US$ 1.25 per day (NPC & CBS, 2013).

It is most important to invest on women and children’s health and nutrition to avoid devastating impact on their future and, ultimately on national development.

References:
Black, R. E. (2001). Micronutrients in pregnancy. British Journal of Nutrition, 85(2), S193.
MOHP, New ERA, & ICF. (2012). Nepal demographic and health survey 2011. Kathmandu, Nepal: Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP), New ERA, and ICF International.
NPC, & CBS. (2013). Nepal thematic report on food security and nutrition 2013. Kathmandu, Nepal: National Planning Commission (NPC) and Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
WHO. (2008). Nutrition (NUT). Retrieved August 2, 2013, from http://www.nep.searo.who.int/EN/Section4/Section47.htm
WHO. (2012). 10 facts on nutrition. Retrieved August 1, 2013, from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/nutrition    /en/index.html
Zerfu, T. A., & Ayele, H. T. (2013). Micronutrients and pregnancy; effect of supplementation on pregnancy and      pregnancy outcomes: A systematic review. Nutrition Journal, 12(1), 20.

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