About 1.7 crore married women aged between 15 and 49 are suffering from malnutrition in Bangladesh. Among them, 1.20 crore are overweight and 50 lakh are underweight.
Both forms of malnutrition pose a risk for maternal and child health, according to a study jointly conducted by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and Data for Impact (D4I).
The number of ever-married women aged 15 to 49 years in the country is 3.80 crores, 45% of whom are malnourished. Underweight malnutrition among married women has decreased while overweight malnutrition has increased significantly, said health experts while presenting the report at icddr,b at Mohakhali in the capital on Tuesday.
Researchers have expressed concern that the nutritional status of women will further deteriorate due to the current inflation.
Saiqa Siraj, country director of Nutrition International, said, "The effect of overweight obesity is not a far-fetched issue that will harm the elderly population only. It is affecting our mothers and our children and causing an inter-generational challenge."
"Obesity will increase due to an increase in food prices as people will compromise on protein, and become more dependent on carbohydrates," she said.
The findings were presented by Shusmita Khan, knowledge management and communications specialist of Data for Impact (D4I) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and M Moinuddin Ahmed, associate scientist of Health Systems and Population Studies Division at icddr,b.
Analysing the demographic, health and nutrition data from 2007 to 2017, researchers said underweight malnutrition among married women in Bangladesh has decreased significantly. In 2007, underweight malnutrition was 30%, which decreased to 12% in 2017-18.
On the other hand, in 2007, about 12% of women in that age group were obese, which increased to 32% in 2017-18.
In addition, despite remarkable progress in reducing undernourishment among women, the share of well-nourished women remains unchanged, 58% in 2007 and 56% in 2017-18.
This shift of the dominant burden from undernutrition to overnutrition occurred around 2012–2013.
If this trend persists, linear projections indicate that about 46% of ever-married women of reproductive age will be overweight/obese by 2030, the study finds.
The problem of obesity among women in Bangladesh is becoming evident day by day. Not much attention is being paid to this issue. Now is the time to focus on this problem, said the speakers at the event.
Dr Kanta Jamil, senior monitoring, evaluation and research adviser at USAID, said, "We see there is a gap in policy. However, we also have to keep in mind that while the crossover from underweight to overweight among ever-married women of reproductive age started around 2012, the gap is more visible from 2017-18 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey. Now we must plan the next programs and rectify policies if required to meet this new challenge".
Jointly organised by Data for Impact (D4I) – a data-driven initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and icddr,b, the event was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Why double burden of malnutrition among women is a concern
Annually Bangladesh has 3.4 million births, 0.9 million of which occur to overweight women, and 0.5 million occur to underweight women, notes the study.
If the current trend in malnutrition continues, pregnancies/births among overweight women will increase. Both forms of malnutrition pose a risk for maternal and child health, it said.
For example, underweight mothers are at risk of having anaemia, antepartum/postpartum haemorrhage and premature rupture of membranes.
Additionally, 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 durations.
All of these have potentially serious implications for infant survival, growth, and development as well as intergenerational implications.