Malnutrition is a condition that millions of people around the world are facing, particularly in the developing world. Those suffering from malnutrition get too little nourishment and this can lead to serious health issues, including stunted growth, low productivity, eye problems, diabetes and heart disease. There are said to be over 180 million malnourished children of less than five years around the world. Almost half of the mortality in children in the world is attributed to under nutrition. Malnutrition presents a continuing risk to children’s physical and mental development, which results in poor academic achievement and other problems. Adequate nutrition ensures a strong immune system and proper physical and intellectual development in early childhood.

It has been estimated that 170 million (30 percent) of children under the age of five in the world are moderately or severely stunted, and 110 million (19 percent) are moderately or severely underweight. Almost half of all stunted children reside in Asia, 51 million (8 percent) children under five years of age are wasted, and two thirds of all wasted children live in Asia. Malnutrition affects the future health and socioeconomic development of children and the dynamic perspective of society. Pakistan has been reported to have one of the highest levels of child malnutrition compared to other developing countries. According to the National Nutrition Survey, 33 percent of all children were underweight. Iron deficiency is one of the biggest threats to Pakistan’s population and national productivity. Children in Pakistan of less than 5 years of age suffer from iron deficiency to the extent of 49.1 percent as per the National Nutrition Survey 2018.

Iron deficiency affects a number of things from physical and mental health to productivity. This needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. To attain progress in this regard, it is imperative that children be given good sources of iron. This includes meat, poultry and vegetables. Research in Western countries is working on enhancing the nutritional value of food and food ingredients. Now new products are being developed with new and improved iron sources known as Iron + which offer 3 times more absorption in the body versus the existing best available sources of iron. Breakthroughs in this regard can reinforce the prevention of Iron Deficiency in countries like Pakistan and build a healthier generation for a better future.

The good news is that Pakistan is said to be ‘on course’ to meet two targets for maternal, infant and young child nutrition (MIYCN). At present there is insufficient data to assess the progress that Pakistan has made towards achieving the low-birth-weight target. Pakistan has made some progress towards achieving the target for stunting, but 37.6 percent of children under 5 years of age are still affected, which is higher than the average for the Asia region (21.8 percent). Pakistan has also made some progress towards achieving the target for wasting but 7.1 percent of children under 5 years of age are still affected, which is lower than the average for the Asia region (8.9 percent).

Pakistan has made no progress towards reducing anemia among women of reproductive age. Some progress has, however, been made towards achieving a low birth weight target. Pakistan has made some progress towards achieving the target for stunting as well, but 37.6 percent of children under 5 years of age are still affected, which is higher than the average for the Asia region (21.8 percent). It is interesting that while Pakistan’s three big political parties have the subject of malnutrition prominently stated in their election manifestos, they have done nothing in practical terms to address the issue. It is time that parliamentarians took personal interest and made endeavors to bring about effective legislation on the subject. It would do a service to the nation if the parliament becomes more proactive instead of just paying lip service to the people’s poor health conditions.

The role of the food industry is highly vital in countering malnutrition. The industry needs to move its focus from merely addressing malnutrition beyond common products such as salt, cooking oil, ghee, rice and wheat; as well as milk. Such products can easily be fortified to meet iron deficiency targets with up-and-coming new research such as Iron Plus (Iron+), that has been recently proven scientifically to enhance the absorption of iron by three times. Pakistan needs to take productive steps at all levels to fight malnourishment. The eradication of iron deficiency and malnutrition in Pakistan needs to become a national cause and all concerned must pitch in their best—the government, the food industry and the people at large.