Islamabad : To address the challenge of ensuring the availability and consumption of healthy, safe, and nutritious diets by all population groups, the government is committed to formulating the National Healthy Diet Policy with the technical assistance of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), said Dr. Baseer Khan Achakzai, director (nutrition and health programmes) at the national health services ministry, on Wednesday.
“This [healthy diet] policy will provide strategic guidance for the country to ensure the provision of a healthy and nutritious diet for all and formulate robust approaches in light of international best practices that will help us address the challenges occurring because of the consumption of unhealthy diets,” Dr. Achakzai told a GAIN team during a consultation here. The GAIN team was led by director (policy and external relations) Steve Godfrey.
The participants advocated the formulation of a healthy diet policy for Pakistan. Mr. Godfrey shared GAIN’s vision on the food systems’ transformation and healthy diets. GAIN senior policy adviser Faiz Rasool shared the objectives of the consultation session, and Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, the national coordinator at the national health services, gave the background and shared the government’s political commitment to improve access to healthy diets.
GAIN country director Farrah Naz appreciated participants for their contribution and shared the way forward. The consultative session was also attended by the development partners like the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Nutrition International, and other key stakeholders. The NHS ministry and GAIN have formed the National Technical Advisory and Advocacy Group for the formulation of the healthy diet policy to guide the current and future diet-related interventions and support the government in ensuring the availability and consumption of healthy, safe, and nutritious diets by all population groups, particularly those at risk, leading to improved overall nutrition indicators for Pakistan. The consultative meeting has kick started the policy formulation process.
Mr Godfrey said globally, three billion people couldn’t afford a healthy diet and in Pakistan, more than two-thirds of the country’s population, which was around 68 per cent of Pakistanis, couldn’t afford a healthy diet.
“Poor diet contributes to six of the top ten risk factors for the global disease burden. We are confident that this policy provides a roadmap for the country to ensure the provision of a nutritious and healthy diet for its population but also overcome the challenges posed by a high prevalence of malnutrition,” he said. According to the National Nutrition Survey, 2018, more than 40 per cent of Pakistani children under five years are stunted and almost 18 per cent are wasted. Globally, non-communicable diseases disproportionately affect people in low- and middle-income countries where more than three-quarters of the deaths occur due to NCDs.
Officials said for Pakistan, the burden of NCDs was on the rise. According to the NCD Steps Survey 2014-15, four in 10 Pakistanis (41.3 per cent population) are obese or overweight, while 37 per cent have hypertension. The COVID-19 pandemic has created serious implications by further deteriorating the situation and consequently increasing diet-related diseases. The survey revealed that Pakistan had the third highest burden of Type 2 diabetes worldwide with more than 33 million cases.