Rates of malnutrition in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. More than 54% of preschool-age children, equivalent to more than 9.5 million children, are stunted, 56% are underweight and more than 17% are wasted. Although all administrative divisions were affected by child malnutrition there were important differences in the prevalences of the three anthropometric indicators. The prevalence of underweight ranged from 49.8% in Khulna to 64.0% in Sylhet which also showed the highest prevalence of stunting (61.4%) and wasting (20.9%). Despite the high levels, rates of stunting have declined steadily over the past 10 years.

Bangladeshi children also suffer from high rates of micronutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc deficiency. Bangladesh should be commended for making significant progress in reducing vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among preschool children over the past 15 years; however, consumption of vitamin A rich foods is still low, suggesting that the underlying causes of VAD require further attention and support. Anemia is also highly prevalent among children in Bangladesh and few programs have been initiated to improve their iron status.

Malnutrition among women is also extremely prevalent in Bangladesh. More than 50 percent of women suffer from chronic energy deficiency and studies suggest that there has been little improvement in women's nutritional status over the past 20 years. As observed for children there were important differences in the prevalence of women malnutrition among administrative divisions. The prevalence of women with a BMI<18.5 kg/m2 ranged from 47.6% in Khulna to 59.6% in Sylhet. Clinical VAD is common among women of reproductive age and during pregnancy. Sub-clinical VAD and anemia are also highly prevalent among pregnant and lactating women. Programs in Bangladesh also need to begin to incorporate components for adolescents and school-age children who will also benefit from improvements in nutrition.

Improving nutrition can have a significant impact on survival as well as physical and cognitive development and productivity. Good nutrition, comprising adequate quality and quantity of food intake and reduction of illness is also a basic human right and is an essential input for economic development.

Significant progress has been made in cereal production in Bangladesh over the past decades. However, the rapid population growth and resulting high and growing food requirements pose a difficult challenge given the limited availability of cultivable land in Bangladesh. Re-occurring disasters further complicate the stability of food production. Recently the gouvernment of Bangladesh and interested organisations have started to encourage non-cereal food production and consumption along with food self-sufficiency. Greater attention is being given to supportive policies for agriculture input, research on non-cereal crops, and commercial and homestead promotion of poultry and fruits/vegetables are receiving greater attention. There is a clear need to diversify food sources both in terms of land/environmental sustainability, development of the rural economy and increased consumption to achieve improvements in the nutritional status of the people of Bangladesh.

© FAO 2010