TACOMA, Washington — Due to its mountainous terrain and domestic instability, Nepal has long suffered from food insecurity. As one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, many people in Nepal are unable to obtain sufficient nutrients from diet alone. Despite this, nutritional health in Nepal is on a steady rise.
Nutritional Inadequacy in Nepal
Many factors contribute to the nutritional standards of a country: economic growth, the quality of infrastructure and social issues. In Nepal, these combined factors have left many people with the inability to access foods with high nutritional values. As a result, many Nepalis suffer from long-term ailments associated with malnutrition.
Nepal’s poor nutritional health standards are felt most strongly among women and children. They often suffer from high rates of malnutrition-related maladies, such as maternal mortality and stunting in children. Nepal has recently reduced malnutrition rates, but the lack of nutritional food still impacts a large number of children. The national stunting rates of children under 5 years old clearly showcases this. As of 2019, Nepal’s stunting rate for children younger than 5 is 36%. This number is an improvement from the 57% in the 1990s, but it is still far too high, especially in impoverished communities. Stunting levels are highest in the more impoverished, far western provinces of Nepal. For example, more than half of all children in Karnali are suffering from the ailment.
Nutritional health in Nepal is also lagging among women. Anemia among women and the underweight rate among adolescent girls are especially concerning. Anemia has risen in recent years; the rate of anemia among women increased from 35% to 41% between 2011 and 2016. In that same time period, children under 5 experienced a 7% increase in rates of anemia. The percentage of underweight women is also dangerously high. Around 17% of women ages 15 to 49 have a BMI less than 18.5, and almost a third of these women are teenagers. On top of this, Nepal has a high rate of adolescent pregnancy. When these underweight girls give birth, there is a rise in complications, such as stillbirths and neonatal death.
Improvements in Nutritional Health
Farming plays a vital role in providing for Nepalis’ well-being. The agricultural sector employs 66% of the country. Unfortunately, agricultural production has not grown at an adequate pace and does not meet Nepalis’ dietary and monetary needs. Limited farming space, low-quality seeds, poor soil management and substandard infrastructure all contribute to this low productivity.
The levels of malnutrition and its related complications are worrisome, but the rates are lower now than in the 1990s. A main reason for the improvement in nutritional health standards is the increased action by the Nepali government and various NGOs. As a developing nation, Nepal had to prioritize the development of its healthcare sector. Other socio-economic issues, such as poverty, education and childcare, were understood to be related to healthcare and malnutrition. Thus, developmental initiatives always considered nutritional health in their drafting. Health initiatives, such as the National Vitamin A Supplementation Program and campaigns to increase the levels of iron and folic acid among pregnant women, were launched in the early 1980s and continue to this day. Several NGO programs also implemented nutritional programs of their own.
In addition to the specific initiatives designed to address nutritional health in Nepal, there have been efforts to restructure and decentralize the healthcare system. In 1988, a network of female healthcare workers, called the Female Community Health Volunteers, was established to increase health and family planning services. These women have become the primary vehicle to deliver messages and advice regarding health and nutrition to households throughout Nepal. Meanwhile, the Local Self Governance Act of 1999 sought to permit local health officials the ability to make their own decisions regarding the planning of local-level health programs.
Developmental programs in education and sanitation have also had a positive impact on nutritional health in Nepal. For example, programs dedicated to ending open defecation in the country have been credited with reducing infections, further lowering the rates of stunting. Increased education levels have also proved to have a similar influence on nutritional standards. There is also a direct correlation between parental education and the understanding of a child’s nutritional and healthcare needs.
A Long, Healthy Life
It is important to understand why Nepal has seen decreases in malnutrition in order to emulate its success in other developing nations. Government attention and action has aided the country in overall healthcare measures, which trickle into nutritional need. Local organizations have also played a pivotal role in improving the nutritional health in Nepal. From education to local regulation, the country has taken a multi-step approach to this multi-faceted issue. Nepal has put in place measures that are already benefitting the nutritional health of its people, which will continue to improve in the years to come.
– Nikhil Khanal