Adolescent nutrition in Pakistan received a major boost lately with the release of Pakistan’s first ever Adolescent Nutrition Strategy.
A joint undertaking by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Government of Pakistan, UNICEF and The World Health Organization (WHO), the Pakistan Adolescent Nutrition Strategy and Operational Strategy (PANS) examines the nutritional status of a long-overlooked population and charts out a bold road map for action.
"This strategy is a very positive development for the future of Pakistan," says GAIN Pakistan Country Director Farrah Naz. "It is the product of considerable consultation with stakeholders and captures the diversity of adolescents throughout the country - boys, girls and more vulnerable segments of society such as transgender adolescents and those with disabilities."
Adolescents make up fully 23% of the population of Pakistan - an estimated 40 million individuals. Despite being a time of rapid growth with impacts that lasts a lifetime, the nutritional status of adolescents has often been overlooked - not only in Pakistan, but all over the world.
It is the product of considerable consultation with stakeholders and captures the diversity of adolescents throughout the country
Malnutrition in girls aged 10-19 years has inter-generational effects. It contributes to low birth weight and child stunting which, in turn, leads to a shorter lifespan, poorer learning and livelihood outcomes.
Moreover, findings from the last Pakistan national nutrition survey (2017-18) revealed that the adolescent boys carry an even higher burden of malnutrition (underweight, stunting, overweight and obesity) compared to the girls. The survey - the first to examine the nutritional status of boys - found unhealthy eating habits and sedentary life style common among both sexes, a development that bodes ill for the health of the nation and the economy as a whole.
Despite this, most countries have focused on maternal and nutritional status of young mothers and their infants while ignoring an age-group that represents the best chance to reverse the effects of malnutrition in childhood.
Investing in adolescent nutrition means investing in human capital and thus in economic growth. That makes adolescence the best time to prevent the onset of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life, while addressing adolescence-specific nutritional issues and even correcting nutritional problems originating in the past.
Given the economic and public health implications of the current state of adolescent malnutrition in Pakistan, it was imperative to design a multi-sectoral adolescent strategy to address the immediate, underlying and basic causes of malnutrition among girls and boys of early (10-15 years) and late (16-19 years) age groups.
Throughout 2019, a country wide series of consultations were held. The strategy was formulated with the goal of enabling all adolescent girls and boys in Pakistan to reach their full potential, to enjoy healthy lives and well-being, free from all forms of malnutrition. Objectives are to: 1) ensure that adolescent girls and boys benefit from supportive surrounding and have adopted positive nutrition behaviours, and 2) to develop and implement evidence-based, multi-sectoral, quality nutrition programs and services be provided at scale to meet the needs of adolescent boys and girls.
With the active leadership of the provinces in the implementation of the province specific operational plans will help in preventing malnutrition and enhancing health and nutrition status of the adolescents of Pakistan.
"The support of UN and development partners, provincial governments, academia and other stakeholders in development of this strategy is highly appreciated," notes Dr Abdul Baseer Khan Achakzai, Director, National Nutrition Programme, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation & Coordination. "With the active leadership of the provinces in the implementation of the province specific operational plans will help in preventing malnutrition and enhancing health and nutrition status of the adolescents of Pakistan."