Deploring that nutrition is not being recognised as a health and well-being-related speciality in the country, the Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society (PNDS) has called upon the government to introduce degree courses in nutrition and dietetics at colleges and universities, create positions of nutritionists at public health facilities and provide employment to trained and qualified nutritionists and dietitians to improve the nutritional status of the nation.
PNDS office-bearers made these demands while addressing a news conference at the Karachi Press Club the other day in connection with March Nutrition Month, which is observed globally to raise awareness about the importance of nutrition and diet in the overall well-being of people and prevention of diseases.
They also demanded of the federal government to establish a Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Council (PNDC) on the pattern of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, a pharmacy, nursing council and many other regulatory bodies so that only genuine and qualified persons could be able to practise and advise people on matters related to nutrition in health and disease.
In the absence of such a council, unrelated and non-qualified people were misguiding the entire nation, they added.
An awareness walk was also held outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC), which was attended by the PNDS office-bearers as well as by students from different educational institutions, who were holding placards inscribed with slogans and messages about having a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, and the importance of exercise to remain healthy and avoid most of the preventable diseases.
“In a country where 38 per cent of children are stunted, which means that their growth and development is impaired due to poor and insufficient diet, nutrition as a speciality is not being recognised in Pakistan, which is highly deplorable.
“Nutrition status in Sindh is the worst in Pakistan, but unfortunately, no efforts are being made to promote this speciality and produce trained and qualified nutritionists and dietitians,” said Dr Nilofer Safdar, former president of the PNDS and an associate professor at the Dow University of Health Sciences.
Accompanied by President PNDS Rabia Anwar, Vice President Saima Rasheed, former president and PR Coordinator Fayza Khan, Saima Rasheed, Shabnam Razi and others, she said that although the federal and provincial governments had started nutrition programs in 2013, but the people hired by the authorities were either foreigners or locals who were not qualified nutritionists and dietitians; they were doctors, food technologists or those belonging to other related disciplines who could not run these programs as per local needs.
Calling for introducing Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses and producing PhDs in the field of nutrition and dietetics, Dr Safdar called for the capacity building of the faculty as colleges and varsities, and urged the Higher Education Commission to pay heed to the promotion of nutrition as a subject at institutes of higher learning.
President PNDS Rabia Anwar said the theme of March Nutrition Month this year was ‘food for health’, saying they were trying simultaneously to create awareness among the masses as well as highlight issues of nutritionists, who were not being recognised while illiterate and unspecialised persons were being promoted as nutritionists and dietitians in the country.
Calling for the establishment of a Nutrition Council through a presidential order or act of parliament, she also urged the government to form Senate and provincial assembly committees to improve nutritional status and control obesity and malnutrition, which had become serious national issues.
Eminent nutritionist and former PNDS president Fayza Khan deplored that nutritionists were not being employed at most of the public hospitals in the province, including the JPMC, Civil Hospital Karachi, National Institute of Child Health (NICH), and called for employing trained and qualified nutritionists at hospitals so that they could advise people on the prevention of diseases through dietary interventions.
“Untrained and unqualified people are advising on diet and nutrition everywhere in the country, including doctors who are not trained to tell what to eat and what not to eat. Similarly, unrelated and unqualified people advise on diet and nutrition on media, which should be halted immediately,” she said and urged the media to spread awareness about a healthy and balanced diet in consultation with trained and qualified dietitians and nutritionists only.
Other PNDS members, including Saima Rasheed, Shabnam Razi and Mozamilla Mughal, also spoke on the occasion. Later, the PNDS office-bearers and students held a walk for awareness about diet and nutrition.