Although Bangladesh has made considerable progress in food grain production, dietary diversity is yet to be found on the menu
We are what we eat. Along with our physical appearance, our psychological condition also depends on the food we consume. A balanced diet provides necessary energy and nutrients for optimal growth, maintenance and development of our body.
To achieve a balanced diet, a person must eat healthy and nutritious food from the five groups - carbohydrates, protein, milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, fats and sugars.
Although Bangladesh has made considerable progress in food grain production, dietary diversity is yet to be found on the menu. Low intake of fruits, vegetables and high intake of carbohydrates are the major concern for the public health in Bangladesh.
Caused by imbalanced food diets, non-communicable diseases and premature deaths has gone up considerably in Bangladesh, according to the World Health Organization data.
An adult must consume 2,000 to 2,500 kilo-calories (k/cal) daily from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and water, says the World Health Organization guideline.
Recent data shows that daily calorie intake in Bangladesh is close to the global average with 2,210 k/cal. However, nutritional deficiencies continue because of the low intake of animal protein and high dependency on rice.
According to the Health Bulletin 2018, around 22 percent Bangladeshi children are born with low birth weight, 31 percent children suffer from stunting (low height-for-age) and 8 percent children suffer from wasting (low weight-for-height).
Just over one-fourth of the women in Bangladesh have chronic energy deficiency and among them around half suffer from zinc and iodine deficiency. About 8.4 million people are reportedly suffering from diabetes mellitus.
Several experts said consumption of an imbalanced diet is known to play a key role in malnutrition and chronic diseases.
"A person can get 2100 k/cal by eating only rice. But it will not fulfil our demand for protein, fat, minerals and vitamins in the body. Too much dependency on carbohydrates increases the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure," said Khaleda Islam, a professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University.
"Deficiency of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals can cause anaemia, weaken the immune system and give rise to other health problems," she added.
According to the latest household income and expenditure survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, people take 406.5 grams of food grains, 15.7 grams pulses, 167.3 grams vegetables, 62.6 grams fish, 25.4 grams meat, 13.6 grams egg, 27.3 grams milk, 27.3 grams milk product and 35.8 grams of fruit on average per day.
Bangladeshis consume 63.8 grams of protein on average per day, said the survey.
According to a recent study titled Global Burden of Disease by the international medical journal The Lancet, lower intake of fruits is the leading dietary risk associated with premature deaths in Bangladesh.
The study also found that around 313 to 397 per one lakh people die in Bangladesh because of their imbalanced dietary habits.
By evaluating the trends in consumption of 15 dietary factors from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries, the study revealed that deaths caused by poor diets were increasing in Bangladesh.
Among the 15 dietary risk factors, low intake of fruits is the most severe risk in Bangladesh, followed by low intake of vegetables, high intake of sodium, low intake of whole grains and low intake of nuts and seeds.
Rising health problems
According to the World Health Organization, at least 572,600 people in Bangladesh die premature deaths annually because of non-communicable diseases and it is the cause behind around 67 percent deaths in the country.
Along with undernutrition, obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, health conditions such as heart complications, cancer and kidney problems are major public health issues in the country.
In recent decades, factors like globalisation, urbanisation and income growth have dramatically changed our food habits.
The gradual shift from plant-based and fibre-rich dishes to processed foods, animal-sourced products and take-away foods increased health risks worldwide.
Obesity and other forms of malnutrition affect nearly one in three people in Bangladesh. Projections indicate that the number will be one in two by 2025.
A combination of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyle has caused obesity rates to go up significantly. An unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for deaths from non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain cancers.
"Poor food habits and sedentary lifestyle are mainly responsible for the rise in heart diseases, high blood pressure and other non-communicable diseases," said Professor Sohel Reza Chowdhury, head of Epidemiology and Research Department of National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute.
"Research conducted by the National Heart Foundation indicated that salt intake rate is very high in our country compared to the World Health Organization standards. Fast food, junk food and trans-fat associated food consumption rate is increasing day by day, which is a major concern for the public health," he added.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-2 aims for a Zero Hunger World, which is not only addressing hunger but also the issue of proper nourishment.
The World Food Day 2019, observed on October 16 every year, calls for action to make a healthy and sustainable diet affordable and accessible to everyone.
It is high time for everyone to start thinking about what we eat so that we can transform our food habits towards a more diverse and balanced diet.