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Stunting – a major public health concern in Pakistan

By Assad Ali Lund,
Stunting refers to the impairment of mental and physical growth and development that children
experience fundamentally owing to poor nutrition and food insecurity. WHO terms stunting as
“impaired growth and development of children due to poor nutrition, repeated infection and
inadequate psychosocial stimulation”. Children are regarded as stunted if their height for age is low.
Globally, around 159 million children under five are stunted with heights and 240 million are in
development impairment. Besides this, (some 2.7 million) nearly half of all deaths among children below
the age of five are attributable to under nutrition.
To add, in South Asia, an staggering percentage of children is encountering stunting. UNICEF surveys
disclose that 38 percent children in Asia, around the age of five are stunted. When it comes to Pakistan,
the country is no exception. Stunting is really widespread issue in Pakistan that is taking significant toll
on the mental and physical wellbeing of children. According to UNICEF, a large number of children in
Pakistan are battling with malnutrition. Approximately, 44 Percent of children are severely stunted in
the country. Other estimates of National Nutrition Survey 2011 suggest that one third of all children are
underweight, nearly 44 percent are stunted, 15 percent are wasted, half of them are anaemic and
almost one third of them have iron deficiencies.
Pursuing this further, in Pakistan, malnutrition is not only confined to children but also rampant among
women of reproductive age. Huge proportion of expecting mothers in general, don’t receive adequate
nourishment during pregnancy. According to media reports, every fifth pregnant women suffers from
severe Vitamin A deficiency.
There is no denying the fact that stunting is badly affecting human capital, economic productivity,
progress, prosperity and most importantly development potential at national level in Pakistan.
Reportedly, Pakistan loses 7.6 billion dollars – 3 percent of its GDP yearly due to malnutrition.
The reasons behind this pathetic prevalence of stunting in Pakistan are multiple. However, rampant
poverty, abysmally low intake of nutritious food, unhygienic living conditions and poor sanitation and
lack of family planning are the root causes for alarming ratio of stunting. Almost 40 percent of Pakistan’s
total populace is trapped in abject poverty. Likewise, every third Pakistani cannot make both ends meet.
This is the core reason why stunting is looming large in the country.
Therefore, Pakistan badly needs to tackle this major health problem on priority basis. First of all,
government must make major strides for poverty eradication. Recent poverty alleviation programme
initiated by incumbent government will go long way towards pulling the poor out of poverty trap. Which
is why this initiative should be implemented in letter and spirit. Furthermore, poor sanitation is the
major issue which brings forth number of fatal diseases. Hence, NGOs and relevant departments should
play their due role in raising awareness about the improvement of sanitation in every household
particularly in disadvantaged areas.
Last but not least, absence family planning is also one of the primary reasons of rising stunting and
malnutrition among women and children. Thus, robust strategies should be devised to for effective
family planning to tackle the growing prevalence of under nutrition and stunting in an efficient manner.
Mainly because medical experts believe that efficient family planning has a positive impact on the

nutritional status of mothers and children. In addition to that the benefits of optimal birth spacing have
far-reaching effects on women and children’s health, leading to healthy child birth weight plus, reducing
the risk of malnutrition and stunned growth among children less than five years of age.
The writer is a freelance columnist, blogger and CSS aspirant, pursuing (BS) Economics at
University of Sindh, Jamshoro, based in Dadu, Sindh. He can be reached at
[email protected]

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