Small fish, big possibilities

Malnutrition affects 17 million Bangladeshi women aged 15-49. Of these, 5 million are underweight and 12 million women are obese. Thus, 45% of women in this age group suffer from malnutrition. This appalling picture of our country’s nutritional status shows how far behind we are in ensuring nutrition security for women in particular. Of course, malnutrition affects a large proportion of Bangladeshis, not just women.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, poses significant threats to human health. Today the world faces the double burden of malnutrition which includes both undernutrition and overweight. The best way to prevent malnutrition is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Native small fish (SIS) species, especially those such as Dhela (Osteobrama Cotio) and Mola (Amblypharyngodon Mola), are rich sources of micronutrients including vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc, which are all necessary for a balanced diet and good health. health.

Small fish have enormous potential to fight malnutrition. Large fish are a rich source of high quality protein but are generally low in micronutrients. Evidence shows that our local species are more nutritious than farmed species. Small native fish (SIS) are excellent sources of good quality protein, vitamins and minerals. Many sis are less than 10cm long and are usually eaten whole.

This bonehead ensures a good amount of iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A in the human diet. Regular consumption of SIS can play a vital role in combating micronutrient deficiencies. Eating small fish also improves the absorption of micronutrients from other foods in meals.

Most women and young children in Bangladesh do not meet the minimum required dietary diversity, resulting in insufficient micronutrients in their diets. According to the 2017-18 BDHS, among children under five, one-third are stunted and 22% underweight; and in the case of women of reproductive age, 18.6% are underweight. Evidence suggests that maternal undernutrition is a key determinant of infant and young child undernutrition.

A deficiency in micronutrients can cause serious and even fatal conditions. They provide enzymes, hormones and other substances necessary for normal growth and development. This leads to reduced performance at work and an increased risk of various diseases.

In Bangladesh, governmental and non-governmental organizations have launched many initiatives to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, but the situation is still not at a desirable level. For example, although Bangladesh has a long history of vitamin A supplementation and fortification programs, 20.5% of preschool children are still vitamin A deficient. Mola carplet, a vitamin A-rich SIS, offers a promising dietary approach to improving vitamin A status (Mola contains 200 IU of vitamin A per gram).

Most of the vitamin A in fish is concentrated in the eyes and guts, and since small fish are usually eaten whole, it helps get vitamins and minerals at the same time.

On the other hand, malnutrition in the form of overweight and obesity is also on the rise. We eat more processed foods, more fats and more sugars. A recent literature review has shown that replacing meat consumption with fish reduces energy intake while aiding weight loss.

Eating fish helps lower cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of dying from coronary heart disease. According to the results of another study, the consumption of 60 g of fish per day was associated with a 12% lower risk of all-cause mortality.

Unplanned use of water bodies through the abolition of natural open water sources and overfishing has led to a decline in SIS in recent times. Also, in carp farming, small fish are considered undesirable in ponds. But now, as a nation, our full attention should be directed towards achieving food and nutrition security.

There needs to be a renewed focus on the production of small fish so that vulnerable groups in urban and rural areas can find SIS accessible and affordable. Most SIS have a short life cycle and farmers can take advantage of their high market demand.

SIS can be easily grown in ditches and small ponds or can be produced through polyculture technology with carp. Mola, Darkina, Chapila, Chela and Punti are all very rich in nutrients and are loved by Bangladeshis from all backgrounds and backgrounds.

Bangladesh is self-sufficient in fish production and the country has made a lot of progress in improving its nutritional status over the past 20 years. And yet, the situation is not at a desirable level. Increasing the accessibility and availability of small fish can significantly reduce the country’s nutritional situation.

Shaima Arzuman Shahin is a nutrition specialist currently working for an international development organization.

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