Experts have identified several challenges to ensuring healthy diets for all age groups in Bangladesh, including an increase in consumption of healthy foods and a cut in consumption of some processed foods with little nutritional value or anti-nutritive factors.
They noted that mere awareness about healthy diet was not sufficient as people consume foods mostly being driven by emotions and aspirations. Also there was the question of affordability to access healthy diets that should be addressed through partnership with the private sector, they added.
They laid emphasis on strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans to ensure sustainable use of natural resources like land and water. Also they strongly recommended imposing punishment taxes on unhealthy diets and subsidies on healthy foods to maximise success and effects.
The suggestions came at the launching ceremony of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report in Bangladesh at a city hotel on Wednesday. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in collaboration with the GAIN organised the event.
Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) executive chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman chaired the event while Ambassador of Norway to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken was present as the guest of honour.
GAIN country director Rudaba Khondker and International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCAD) director Saleemul Huq made the keynote presentations.
In her presentation on 'Dietary Changes from Current Diets Toward Healthy Diets', Ms Rudaba said that consumption of salt and sugar increased in Bangladesh causing obesity, overweight.
The challenge would be to decrease the consumption of some processed foods having little nutritional value or containing anti-nutritive factors.
"We have lots of high-salt, high-sugar foods. But we have not taken much action," she noted.
Only messages and awareness campaigns might not change the demand, said Ms Rudaba. Advertisements on food were linked with emotions and aspirations, she said. "We must shift the norms."
She said that affordability was an issue in ensuring healthy diet consumption. The work on reducing food prices had to be done collectively with the private sector, she added.
In his remarks, Hossain Zillur Rahman said that the knowledge about poor diets should be made well known before proceeding towards healthy diets. Often there was a lack of choice as affordability was a big issue, he added.
"Lack of awareness is a big issue. But we need to supplement the discussion of affordability with cost effectiveness. There is huge scope for cost-efficiency in food production system," he said.
Some of the drivers of poor diet were also linked to the issue of governance like food safety, adulteration, unclean kitchen markets, unhygienic food processing centres, he mentioned. Unclean kitchen market was not prioritised, he added.
"Our attitude towards land and water is also important. Healthy diet is not a feel-good luxury agenda. It implies responsibility across the board including better use of natural resources," Mr Zillur emphasised.
Citing an example, the noted economist said that the agriculture production system in Bangladesh was extremely water-inefficient in terms of irrigation while land use could be rethought in a radical way.
Ms Sidsel Bleken said that the national efforts of Bangladesh should be directed at the food habits that needed to be changed, such as consumption of sugar and fat. Also the safe production and distribution system which reduces waste, is also an important part.
There must be strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans to ensure sustainable use of resources, she added.
In her presentation on 'Food Systems for Healthy Diets in the Context of the Country's Investment Plan for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition', Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Bangladesh senior nutritionist Lalita Bhattacharjee said that in Bangladesh, the contribution of carbohydrate calorie was 17 per cent, followed by poor quality protein, micronutrients with only 60 per cent, vegetable 50 per cent, milk one-fourth where the challenges lie.
People can buy both energy and nutrient-rich foods like eggs, vegetables, leafy vegetables, at the same prices of potato, wheat, rice, sugar and edible oil which are not micronutrient-rich foods, she suggested.
FAO deputy representative David Doolan said that billions of consumers were food addicts over-consuming salt and sugar.
"We have to address aspects of access and availability of healthy diets. The issue of behavioural change is to deal with the three billion individual consumer decisions every day," he said.
"Our choices of food are driven by emotional behavior. Policymakers think they will change things by changing policies and plans," he said.
Mr Doolan also said the market is a mere communication mechanism which communicates the decisions through the producers and the producers respond that way.
IFPRI country director Akter Ahmed said that Bangladesh was off track in many ways despite significant success in food sector.
Dietary diversity is low, with high concentration on rice. This happens due to lack of agricultural diversity. At the same time, there is over nutrition, driven in part by unacceptably-high levels of sugar-sweetened beverages and fats consumed.
"Unhealthy and unsustainably-produced food is a risk to Bangladesh. The food system is focused on increasing food availability, and maintaining rice self-sufficiency," he said.
"Now we need to reorient our food system to focus on supplying food to providing high-quality diets for all," Mr Akter said.
The EAT-Lancet Commission report was launched in more than 35 countries.
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