It is most unfortunate that many infants in Bangladesh are born underweight, weighing less than required for normal growth. The second national nutrition strategy for 2016-2025 says that 23 per cent of the newborn infants are born underweight in the country. In other words, one-fourth of the newborn infants in Bangladesh enter the world with serious health risks. It is a dismal picture indeed, at a time when we are striving for the overall improvement in health and nutrition conditions.
The weight of a newborn depends much on the physical and mental health of the mother. If a mother herself is born underweight and grows up with a lack of proper nutrition, she is bound to have stunted growth and give birth to an underweight and small-sized child. It is important for an expectant mother to have adequate nutrition, health care, as well as physical and mental care during her pregnancy.
The financial and socioeconomic condition of the expectant mother’s family is a vital factor. The families of underweight newborn infants are generally of the rural and urban poor lower class where malnutrition is a prevalent problem. Many of these infants do not grow at the normal rate in weight and height. In fact, unfortunately, as compared to newborns, 32 per cent of the children up till the age of five are underweight. They cannot grow normally even after birth. Of children below five years of age, 36 per cent weigh below normal and 14 per cent have stunted growth.
While overall nutrition is improving in the country, a large section of the poor populace, mostly women and children, suffers from malnutrition. It is difficult to ensure adequate nutritious food for all strata of the people along with poverty alleviation, but until that is done, it will not be possible to prevent the birth of infants with malnutrition.
It is certainly important for GDP and human development indicators to continue upwards, but there is no room for complacence. After all, there is still a large section of the population suffering acutely from poverty and malnutrition.