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ISLAMABAD: Improving the nutritional status of mothers, adolescents and children is a top priority of the government, National Health Services (NHS) Minister Aamir Mehmood Kiyani said on Wednesday.

The minister was speaking to a high-level delegation that included United Nations Children’s Fund New York’s Deputy Executive Director Shahid Azfar, Unicef Regional Director Gean Gough and other officials.

According to a statement issued by the ministry, the meeting discussed a range of issues including improving nutrition, increasing coverage of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and polio eradication, combating pneumonia and diarrhoea among children and the provision of safe drinking water.

According to the Global Nutrition Report 2017, 6pc of Pakistani children mostly from urban areas face twice the burden of disease in the form of stunted growth as well as obesity caused by junk food.

The report, which was launched by the Planning Commission in collaboration with the UN World Food Programme, also claimed that Pakistan had the lowest spending in Asia on nutrition – 3.7pc of its GDP. Nepal, meanwhile, spent 13pc and Bangladesh spent 8pc.

The world is also suffering from the burden of three important forms of malnutrition, the report said; childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age and overweight adult women, which is a rising concern because women are disproportionately affected by the global obesity epidemic.

A ministry official who is not authorised to speak to the press said that 70pc of people in Pakistan cannot afford a balanced diet.

“There is even disparity in the provinces; in Punjab, 60pc of people cannot afford a balanced diet but in Balochistan 88pc cannot. On the other hand, those who can afford a balanced diet are not getting it because of junk food,” he said.

In addition, he said 40pc of food is wasted in Pakistan but no one has taken steps to control this or raise awareness regarding it.

“It is a fact that if we spend $1 on nutrition, we will benefit by $16 because Pakistan has been losing $7.6 billion a year to additional health expenditure and decreasing productivity due to anaemia and other health issues,” he added.

But political awareness regarding nutrition is growing in Pakistan, the official said, as leaders speak on nutrition and are willing to contribute towards meaningful impact.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018