Women in Bangladesh smoke less, but they suffer more from malnutrition due to tobacco consumption by other family members, a recent study reveals.
It finds in general a negative association between women’s nutrition and the extent of tobacco consumption in the household. Consumption of tobacco may affect women’s nutrition via several routes.
Income spent on tobacco reduces income available for food. Families that smoke may be less knowledgeable of the dangers of tobacco use and the requirements for a healthy diet, the study says.
Afifa Shahrin and John Richards of the Centre for Policy Research conducted the study, titled ‘Improving Nutritional Status for Women in Low-Income Households’.
The study carried out in February this year on nearly 600 women surveyed in two sites — one rural and one urban. The rural site was a group of villages near Jamalpur while the urban site was a slum in Uttara in the capital.
Among low-income groups in Bangladesh, addiction to tobacco is very common. More than 65 percent of the rural households and 70 percent of the urban households sampled have at least one member who smokes.
On the other hand, about 65 percent of poor households have at least one member who chews betel nut, the majority being women. Betel quid (betel leaf, areca nut, lime and sometimes tobacco) is another common addictive purchase in Bangladesh and the South Asia.
The study reveals that the average monthly expenditure on tobacco in the rural households with at least one smoker is Tk 114 and in the urban area Tk 139. In both samples, about 15 percent of households spend over Tk 200 per month on tobacco, which force them taking less nutritious food.
About two-thirds of households have at least one member who chews betel nut. Prevalence of chewing betel nut is somewhat greater in the rural areas. The average monthly expenditure varies between Tk 150 and Tk 200.
The study identified tobacco consumption as the cause of eight major diseases, such as ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, oral cancer, cancer of the larynx, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary tuberculosis.
These diseases are responsible for 16 percent of all deaths in Bangladesh and tobacco consumption is the sole cause of 9 percent of such deaths. The annual cost of tobacco-related illness in Bangladesh is estimated at US$ 40 million, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The average standardised rate of mortality due to lung cancer in Bangladesh (18.2 per 100,000 people) is the highest among the South Asian countries.
Malnutrition among the women is a serious problem – in Bangladesh as in many developing countries. Protein-energy malnutrition, iron deficiency anaemia, iodine deficiency disorders and vitamin A deficiency are common.
Malnutrition is a major cause of the high maternal mortality rate in Bangladesh, a rate second only to Nepal among the South Asian countries, said UNICEF in 2011.
The World Food Programme estimated the prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women in Bangladesh in 2004 at 47 percent.
Malnutrition passes from one generation to the next as malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children. Nutritional problems among children contribute to the high – by world standards – under age-five mortality rates in Bangladesh and other the South Asian countries.