Current food and nutrition situation in south Asian and south-east Asian countries

Biomed Environ Sci. 1996 Sep;9(2-3):102-16.


Food production in the countries of South and South-East Asia has shown a general upward trend during the last decade. Despite the considerable increase in population in many of these countries, food production per capita in 1988-90 was significantly higher as compared to 1979-81 figures, the increase being specially marked in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Available daily calorie supply was adequate to meet the requirement. The overall pattern of food production however has shown little change, with cereal production continuing to account for a predominant part of food production. There is no evidence of a significant uptrend with respect to production of pulses, milk, horticultural products, poultry or meat production in most countries. A unique and unfortunate feature of the nutrition situation in South-Asian countries is that the incidence of low birth weight deliveries is as high as 34% (1990), ranging from 25% in Sri Lanka to 50% in Bangladesh (as against less than 7% in the countries of Europe and North America). Even in countries of Africa where the overall food and nutrition situation is worse than in South Asia, the incidence is well below 20%. This is a reflection of the poor state of maternal nutrition in pregnancy. Florid nutritional deficiency diseases have shown a steep decline over the last two decades, but goitre and iron deficiency anaemia continue to be major public health problems, though some headway has been made with regard to the control of the former. Severe forms of growth retardation in children have declined but the majority suffer from mild and moderate forms of growth retardation. Countries of the Region are in varying stages of developmental transition. Among the burgeoning middle classes in some of these countries there are evidences of escalation of degenerative diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. With increasing life expectancy, geriatric nutritional problems will demand increasing attention.

PIP: This article discusses the Human Development Index levels in southern and southeastern Asia, food production and availability, soil and water erosion and fishery depletion, undernutrition, anemia, child mortality, and low birth weight. Urbanization is rapidly increasing. There is a growing affluent middle class. Public health is being threatened by new diseases such as AIDS. An estimated 33% of populations in South and Southeast Asia will be living in urban areas. Urbanization influences are expected to change life styles and patterns of food consumption. It is argued that the future will pose challenges to food resource allocation. Nutrition will be an emerging issue on the national agenda. South Asians and Southeast Asians now comprise about 56% of Asia's total population and about 33% of total world population. Most South and Southeast Asian countries rank in the medium and low levels of the Human Development Index. Only Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are ranked high. Proper management of Asia's land and water resources suggest the ability to feed their growing populations. In 1992 cereal and pulse production kept pace with population growth. However, the estimated per capita daily food availability barely met estimated requirements, and food availability was deficient in some countries. The Green Revolution emphasized the production of wheat and rice at the expense of legumes and pulses. Fruits and vegetables were sufficiently available but seasonally unequally distributed due to storage and refrigeration problems. Soil quality and fish stocks declined during the Green Revolution. Many programs are working to increase nutrition among low-income groups. The widespread health problems include growth retardation, anemia, iodine deficiency, and vitamin A deficiency. Other measures of health, such as prevalence of low birth weight, are based on old studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia / epidemiology
  • Asia, Southeastern / epidemiology
  • Developing Countries*
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Prevalence