Stunting is a condition where children grow at slower rates than the average person, being shorter than a typical person of their age.
“Animal protein is crucial for children’s growth,” Dr Md (Mohammed) Mohsin Ali, a nutrition specialist at Unicef Bangladesh, told GlobalMeatNews.
He said that children’s protein requirement was higher than that of adults and the optimal intake of meat, such as chicken, should be 2 grammes/kg of body weight, compared to 1 gramme/kg of body weight. “Macronutrients such as protein help to raise aggregate calorie intake. Food has to be balanced and diversified,” he said.
Help to poultry farmers
But Bangladesh’s poor remain heavily reliant on carbohydrates, mostly rice, consuming little protein.
Given this situation, the Unicef expert called on the Bangladeshi government to provide incentives to farmers to rear poultry and raise marketing support, so that meat production and consumer demand could both be increased.
His call comes as 5.5 million children younger than five years old – or one-third of the south Asian nation’s children – are stunted, according to the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey.
Meat cost a challenge
The situation is far worse in urban slums, where one in two children are stunted. Indeed, stunting is one-and-a-half times more prevalent in low-income urban settlements than in non-slums, according to data from the Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2013, conducted by the government’s National Institute of Population Research and Training.
Moreover, the rising price of meat, especially beef and chicken, is making the problem worse, preventing poor consumers from buying such products, although sales are rising among other social groups.
Robiul Alam, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Meat Traders Association, said beef sales in Dhaka, the capital, had plummeted by three-quarters over the past three to four years, after prices soared by 50%-60% since India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, elected in 2014, repressed, then halted, cattle supplies across the Indo-Bangladeshi border. This has driven up demand for poultry meat, with prices increasing in turn.
“There are hardly any sales of meat [beef] today” in the poorest communities, Alam told GlobalMeatNews.
In the past, even slum-dwellers used to buy meat to meet their protein requirements, because it was cheaper than fish, he explained.
Bangladesh’s meat consumption is among the lowest in the world, with annual per capita intake being just 4kg, compared with the world average of 48.2kg a year, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.