"I am feeding my daughter one egg a day instead of two. I stopped eating eggs and fish to provide for my baby. Even so, the price of baby food has increased so much that it is difficult to manage nutritious food for them," said Khalid Hasan (not his real name), an employee of a private company in Dhaka.
Most fixed-income parents are struggling to provide nutritious food to their children. Nutrition experts believe pricey baby food could lead to long-term child malnutrition.
"The authorities must take initiatives to control the price of baby food. Otherwise it will have a long-term impact on the nutrition of children," Khursheed Jahan, a renowned nutritionist and honorary professor of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard (TBS).
Khalid Hasan told TBS, "My daughter is 18 months old, so her weight should be 18kg. But she weighs less than 10kg. The doctor prescribed nutritious food for her. We are feeding her Cerelac (nutritious cereal for babies), semolina, almonds, and dates along with breast milk. But because of the high prices of food products, we are unable to feed her what she needs. The girl's weight is not increasing properly."
The country has seen prices of all kinds of commodities soar in recent times, triggered by the fuel price hike. Middle-class and lower-income people like Khalid Hasan are forced to make various cuts in household expenses to meet the additional expenses.
Khalid Hasan said that with a monthly salary of Tk35,000, he is struggling to make ends meet. "I have to spend Tk5-6,000 per month for my daughter's food alone, not to mention the house rent, transportation, and household expenses."
"Earlier, I used to eat snacks costing Tk30-40 at the office in the afternoon, but now I just skip it. This month, my girl was supposed to be taken to the doctor for a follow-up but could not go due to financial problems. I have left all socializing. I didn't even attend a close relative's wedding last week to avoid expenses," he said.
Mousumi Mou, a resident of Mohammadpur, is going through a similar experience. Her one-year-old twin girls have not been breastfed since birth. Earlier, they were fed NAN milk worth Tk800. But since the price of that milk has increased to Tk900 and other costs have increased, Mou is feeding Lactogen 2 worth Tk520 to the children, even though the price of Lactogen has also increased by Tk20 recently.
"Milk for my children now costs about Tk7,000 a month. Not only milk but prices of all kinds of baby food have gone up. I have now been forced to cut down on children's food," she said.
"Egg protein is a first-class protein that can provide the nutrients needed for children's physical and mental growth. But the price of eggs has skyrocketed now. Milk is another essential food for babies. Milk supplies calcium and many other micronutrients to children's bodies," said nutritionist Khursheed Jahan.
"Not getting nutritious food regularly will affect children's health. As a result, stunting will increase, and the physical growth of the child will be hindered and also brain development," she added.
The prices of all types of milk in the markets of Dhaka have risen by Tk20-50 in the last three months. A 350gm lactogen (1, 2, 3) milk packet now costs Tk520, which was Tk500 a month ago. The price of Nestle NIDO One Plus Growing Up Milk Powder (350gm) is now Tk400, up from Tk375. Biomil 1 Milk Power (350gm) is priced at Tk490, up from Tk470 three months ago. NAN 1 milk (400gm) is priced at Tk900, up from Tk860. The price of Cerelac depending on standards ranges between Tk250 and Tk475.
An employee of Live Pharmacy at east Rampura, on condition of anonymity, said, "The price of milk of every brand has increased in the last two to three months. Due to the price hike, consumers are now buying 350gm packets of milk instead of big ones.
Rates of malnutrition in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. In Bangladesh, more than 54% of preschool-aged children – equivalent to more than 9.5 million children – are stunted, 56% are underweight and more than 17% suffer from wasting away of the body, according to a 2019 report by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).