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Could Fish Help End Undernourishment in Bangladeshi Women and Children?

New research from international non-profit organization WorldFish makes a strong case for how to improve nutrition in Bangladesh. The study finds that there are significant health benefits associated with the use of small fish in chutney and flour, especially for pregnant women and infants.

Bangladesh has high rates of undernutrition; 24 percent of women in Bangladesh aged 15-49 have a body mass index (BMI) below the healthy range. For infants and children, undernutrition is a major cause of stunting which can adversely affect their development, especially in the first 1,000 days of life.

WorldFish research has shown that fish offer unique nutritional benefits during the first 1,000 days of life and significantly improve the micronutrient intakes of children and pregnant and lactating women. Fish include several micronutrients that are often considered ‘problem nutrients,’ such as iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin B12.

WorldFish researchers, working with researchers from the University of Queensland and private sector partners, used dried, small indigenous fish in the development of a chutney to accompany the meals of pregnant and lactating women, and a flour to be boiled and served as a porridge for infants and young children. The recipes also use other locally sourced ingredients including oil, onion, spices, orange sweet potato, and rice.

“In Bangladesh, as in many resource-poor areas of the world, we would prefer to find locally sourced solutions to reducing food and nutrition insecurity. Small fish have high nutrient content and are both inexpensive and readily accessible to the poor,” said Stephen Hall, Director General of WorldFish. “By using this ingredient in nutritious, locally-produced complementary food you create sustainable products that can have a powerful impact on nutrition and health outcomes and can provide a source of income for both producers and processors.”

The organization has now presented a multi-dimensional solution for the use of fish in Bangladesh to combat both malnutrition and poverty. Small-scale fish farming can be done by locals, supplying jobs and food, while the new chutney and flour products can be easily made for meals. WorldFish asserts that these strategies have “powerful advantages over commonly used food fortification and supplement methods in improving nutrition,” citing issues around cost, access, acceptability, sustainability, and bioavailability.

WorldFish’s proposed initiatives could complement other existing and proposed solutions to malnutrition in developing areas. For example, Lucky Iron Fish (named one of Sustainia’s Top 100 Solutions for 2015) is helping to combat iron deficiency in Cambodia, while Hershey is working with Project Peanut Butter and the Ghana School Feeding Programme to reduce child malnutrition in Ghana.


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