While the government organises Nation Nutrition Week to spread awareness on diet and nutrients, Pritha Banerjee points out that it’s not just what we eat but also how and when we eat that matters.
Let’s accept it. We’re a malnourished nation. Despite an eclectic mix of cuisines and a variety of food prepared across the country, India still fights lack of proper nutrition. And it’s not just lack of nutrition that is the problem. While according to Transform Nutrition in India (2015) report, India has the largest number of undernourished people with 212 million; over-nutrition has been brought to notice by various scientists too. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), in the next decade chronic non-communicable diseases would be a huge global burden and most of it is related to diet. In our country, when half the population is suffering from malnutrition another half is suffering from obesity. The reason to such situation is not just food availability but also food allocation.
“Despite India’s 50 percent increase in GDP since 1991, more than one-third of the world’s malnourished children live in our country. The biggest reason for India’s malnutrition is poor sanitation, exposure to bacteria and children unable to consume proper nutrients. This brings us to the other face of malnutrition, undernutrition,” says V Rajagopal, a researcher from Society for Hunger Elimination (SHE), in Tirupati.
It is estimated that more than two billion people are affected by often invisible form of malnutrition and the micronutrient deficiency which is commonly referred as ‘hidden hunger’. “Globally, vitamin A deficiency is the main cause of blindness in children,” says Dr J Roy, a nutritionist from a multi-speciality hospital in Kolkata. She adds that the overconsumption of food to a point at which health is adversely affected is the main cause of obesity among children.
Dr S Majumdar, a paediatrician, says, “The increasing number of junk food outlets in India is another cause for over-nutrition. With the advertisement of ‘healthier’ products available outside, less and less meals are cooked at home. With a growing number of personal vehicles, television sets and other technologies, there is a huge reduction in physical activities. Rather than going out to play football in a playground, the kids these days prefer to play FIFA on their computers at home. In the fast-paced world, people are choosing two-wheelers to travel even a short distance.”
Eating right is very important for nutrition no matter what age. “Children below 1000 days that is from conception to second birthday require special attention, since malnutrition at this age leads to irreversible damage, including reduced brain and intellectual development,” says DJ Nithya, nutritionist from MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. Talking about nutrition for pregnant and lactating women, Dr Roy adds, “A woman should eat a healthy and balanced diet starting from the day of conception to nourish the growing foetus, and to build optimal body reserves in preparation for breastfeeding. Her diet should include vitamins D, B2, B6, B12 and the minerals iron, iodine, folic acid and calcium. Milk is an importance source of calcium.”
The nutritionists believe that eating what is available at home is better than any other external intake of vitamins. “A person should eat more whole grains, sprouted grams and fermented foods, take milk/meat/eggs in adequate amounts and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits,” says Nithya.
During the age of 4-6 years, a child needs a lot of energy. “They should get 120 g/CU/day of cereal and minerals, 30 g/CU/day of pulses and legumes, 150 g/CU/day of green leafy vegetable with milk/meat/eggs,” adds Dr Majumdar. “The same goes for the adolescent and pre-adolescent period as well as their body is developing at this stage.”
Looking at the government initiatives in past few years, one of the major changes would be the implementation of National Food Security Act (NFSA) in September 2013 that made ‘right to food’ a legal entitlement for approximately three-fourth of the rural population and half of the urban population of India. It brings four existing programmes under one umbrella to provide food and nutritional security, that is, the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the Mid Day Meal (MDM) programme and the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY). The government also organises National Nutrition Week every year in the first week of September to raise awareness on the diet issue.
After 15 years, the Union Cabinet has now approved the National Health Policy 2017 that intends to increase life expectancy at birth from 67.5 to 70 by 2025 and reduce infant mortality rate to 28 by 2019. It also aims to reduce under-five mortality to 23 by the year 2025. Besides, it intends to achieve the global 2020 HIV target.
With due recognition to the current nutrition scenario and further strengthen the Ministries of Health and Child Development, India has a high chance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on malnutrition by 2030.