Consumption of animal source foods, especially fish, is associated with better nutritional status among women of reproductive age in rural Bangladesh


In rural Bangladesh, intake of nutrient-rich foods, such as animal source foods (ASFs), is generally suboptimal. Diets low in nutrients and lacking in diversity put women of reproductive age (WRA) at risk of malnutrition as well as adverse birth outcomes. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between maternal dietary diversity, consumption of specific food groups and markers of nutritional status, including underweight [body mass index (BMI) < 18.5 kg/m2], overweight (BMI ≥ 23 kg/m2) and anaemia (haemoglobin < 120 g/dl) among WRA in Bangladesh. This analysis used data from the third round of a longitudinal observational study, collected from February through May of 2017. Dietary data were collected with a questionnaire, and Women's Dietary Diversity Score (WDDS) was calculated. Associations between WDDS, food group consumption and markers of nutritional status were assessed with separate adjusted logistic regression models. Among WRA, the prevalence of underweight, overweight and anaemia was 13.38%, 40.94% and 39.99%, respectively. Women who consumed dark green leafy vegetables (DGLV) or eggs were less likely to be anaemic or underweight, respectively, and women who consumed ASFs, particularly fish, were less likely to be underweight compared with women who did not consume these foods. WDDS did not show any consistent relationship with WRA outcomes. Interventions that focus on promoting optimal nutritional status among WRA in Bangladesh should emphasise increasing consumption of specific nutrient-rich foods, including ASFs, DGLV and eggs, rather than solely focusing on improving diet diversity in general.

Key messages:

  • Women's nutrition remains poor in rural Bangladesh, with high rates of underweight, overweight and anaemia.

  • Women's Dietary Diversity Score (WDDS) was not systematically associated with underweight, overweight, or anaemia. This has implications for the widespread use of WDDS as a proxy for the quality of women's diet and nutrition.

  • Consumption of specific food groups, including dark green leafy vegetables (DGLV), eggs and animal source foods (ASFs), is positively associated with women's nutrition.

  • Consumption of ASFs, particularly fish, is especially protective against underweight (fish vs. no fish: odds ratio: 0.8, 95% confidence interval: 0.65–0.99, p < 0.05).

  • Policies seeking to improve women's nutrition should emphasise the importance of increasing the consumption of specific foods, including ASFs, eggs and DGLV.

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