ISLAMABAD: Two of every three households cannot afford the recommended nutritious diet, according to a report launched by the Planning Commission and the World Food Programme (WFP) on Thursday.

The report, ‘Minimum cost of diet in Pakistan’ showed that the food expenditure of 67.6pc of the households in Pakistan was below the staple, adjusted nutritious diet threshold.

It added that 4.7pc of the household in the country were living below the energy-only calorie poverty line set at 2,350 kcal per person per day.

Speaking at the launch, chief of nutrition at the planning ministry, Mohammad Aslam Shaheen, said the poor quality of diet was due to a combination of factors, including not being able to afford nutritious food, universal food preferences and feeding behaviours.

The issue of malnutrition cannot be addressed by one ministry, partner or donor, he said, adding it would require a combined effort from all stakeholders.

The report included a message from Mr Shaheen, which reads: “The casual factors to malnutrition in Pakistan are numerous and varied, however, the major underlying factors include both limitations in household access and affordability of nutritious food and the food habits and preference, which shape food purchasing and preparation practices.”

According to the report, 83.4pc of the households in Balochistan 70.8pc in Sindh, 67.4 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 65.6 in Punjab cannot afford the proper, recommended nutrition. Only a majority of households in Islamabad were able to afford proper nutrition with 31.5pc still not able to pay for the recommended diet.

The 48-page report said non-affordability was higher in rural areas compared to the cities.

The minimum cost of the recommended food is based on the availability and affordability of the foods and not on food preferences.

“People make choices for food based on different reasons, not just health or nutrition. Therefore, the choice will not be as optimised for nutrition as the choices made by linear programming and hence, in reality, costs for meeting nutrient intake recommendations are likely to be higher than what has been calculated.”

After studying household expenditure patterns, the report indicated that tea consumption increased the total expenditure set for each household for nutritious foods.

WFP country director and representative Lola Castro said the findings of the report could be used for advocacy, strategy development and programme design and implementation for better addressing nutrition needs in Pakistan.

“The findings of the cost of the diet study are vital component to understand what causes malnutrition in Pakistan and will be instrumental to advocate for appropriate nutrition interventions,” she said in her message in the report.

Sharing the findings of another study, the organisers said the quality of children’s diet was poor for urban and rural children and that the health of rural children is also poorer.

The urban population is wealthier and can better afford nutritious food but children’s diet in Pakistan is poorer than that of neighbouring and African countries, they said.

The other study showed that more than 2.5 million children in the urban areas of Pakistan had stunted growth, which is more than all children with the same condition in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.

It also said more than one million children were underweight for their height in the urban parts of the country, which is more than all the children of Iraq, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, DR Congo, and Ethiopia.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2016

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