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Understanding Nutrition: GOVT-NGO LINK CRITICAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 30 Dec, 2015 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 30 December 2015

Understanding Nutrition


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


In India, where under nutrition and malnutrition is indeed a big problem, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas, the Global Nutrition Report offers hope as well reasons for concern. It shows that the country has made progress towards ensuring that every child can achieve growth potential. Between 2006 and 2014, stunting among children under the age of five dropped from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, which is a significant achievement compared to the previous seven-year period.


However, in States such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the decline has been much lower than the national average. Further, anaemia is found in over 70% of individuals in States of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, and Jharkhand. This is a cause for concern as these northern States are relatively backward and proper awareness needs to be imparted to check the abnormality. If the nutrition levels in these States are improved, it would in turn lead to better social and economic prosperity. In urban areas, overweight status and obesity are over three times as high as rural areas.


As is well known, India has one of the poorest records in the world when it comes to nutrition among children. Around 70 per cent children are anaemic and 1.83 million under age of five die every year. Moreover, 43 per cent malnutrition among under-5 children in the country is worse than even the sub-Saharan Africa. Further, around 38 per cent infants in India are underweight as opposed to only four per cent in China. Though this may have changed a little recently, other indicators also paint a grim picture. 


Incidentally, children of Muslim households and those belonging to Scheduled Castes or Tribes also face higher rates of malnourishment. This phenomenon is most prevalent in the rural areas, where more malnutrition exists on an absolute level. Whether children are of the appropriate weight and height is highly dependent on the socio-economic status of the population. While children in similar communities have shown similar levels of nutrition, child nutrition is also differential from one family to another depending on the mother’s characteristic, household ethnicity and place of residence. It is expected that with improvements in socio-economic welfare, child nutrition will also improve. 


Poverty and hunger in the country have been favourite subjects of discussion and debate among both academics and the media, but sadly very little has been done to improve the situation. Hunger in modern day isn’t about protruding bellies and sunken faces but mostly about getting enough to eat. It’s about not getting the sufficient quantity of food needed that is essential and nutritious for a healthy life. This is specially true of children and lactating mothers and it is widely felt that at least 50 per cent of women and children suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Though scientists of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad had claimed in the early 90s that malnutrition among women has come down, the real picture even now is quite different, specially the conditions of the opposite sex in the backward districts of the country. 


One cannot deny that despite India’s high GDP, under nutrition continues unchecked. In fact, every fourth new born Indian baby is underweight, i.e. 40 per cent of all babies fall in this category. Even renowned economist Prof. Amartya Sen has been stressing on the problem of malnutrition that has plagued the country for years and led to an increase in various forms of diseases in children.


The 44 million stunted children presently in the country have to be transformed and only then can India claim to be a developed nation. Thus, understanding nutrition is in itself a big task and the Government along with the civil society organizations has a big role to play in this regard.  


Primarily, there is need to design effective nutrition interventions and make it popular right down at the Panchayat level. Moreover, nutrition data has to be collected more frequently and consistently across regions to ensure that children are getting the nutrition they need. There is a notion that better nutrition requires a lot of money but this is factually incorrect. With relatively less money, green vegetables, pulses etc. can form the right diet which would be appropriate for adequate nutrition. Of course, the Government would need to ensure that the prices are kept under control.  


Nutritionists have been advocating that consumption of lots of vegetables and fruits to ensure a healthy diet. Oranges, papayas and carrots are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C etc. and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, promote collagen formation and help maintain healthy joints though these may be a little costly at times. Green vegetables are perhaps the best to consume as the nutrients found in them reduce cancer risks, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, normalize the digestive time, support retinal health, fight harmful radicals and boost the immune system. Special mention may be made of spinach (high in iron and folic acid), broccoli (high in anti-cancer properties and containing antioxidants, minerals and vitamins A and C) and kiwi (rich in vitamin C and potassium).


Excessive consumption of meat or oils or high intake of fat, protein etc. may not necessarily be considered nutritious diet. There is need for a balance in the diet mix to ensure that there is proper mixture of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, fat etc. The consumption pattern of the rich segments of society, who have more than sufficient money, has shown that their diets lead to obesity as the balance is missing. 


A healthy and balanced diet has become all the more important because of the spread of pollution and environmental degradation, resulting in reducing the immune power of the individual. Such a diet helps to keep the body healthy and keeps it free from most diseases. It needs to be pointed out here that India is one of the largest disease-prone countries of the world, not just because of poverty and squalor, but also because of the lack of knowledge and awareness about what constitutes a healthy diet.


It is heartening to note that the NIN has formulated an ‘Indian Food Composition’ (IFC) data base to analyse and document the nutrient values of 1200 food items consumed in the country. This would go a long way in creating necessary awareness among the masses about what constitutes a low cost nutritious diet with balance of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins.


However, it is vitally important to involve the voluntary organizations and give them the responsibility to spread such awareness among the community through training camps, specially in the rural and semi urban areas, so that one could know how to keep the body healthy. A road map in this regard should be immediately chalked out with the backward districts in the northern States particularly targeted in the coming year. – INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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