Malnutrition in India: The new shared report ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India 2019’ (Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019) from the Government of India and the United Nations World Food Program has highlighted the state of child starvation and malnutrition in a large part of India. . This has a negative impact on the aspiration of the country, moving forward towards prosperity. This raises questions about the character of the nation and society which, even after seventy years of independence, is not able to fulfill even the basic needs like hunger and nutrition for the population of its millions of poor and deprived people. In such a situation, the question arises that despite the rapid economic growth, the declining level of poverty, adequate food for export and multiplicity of government programs, why the poorest people have the highest level of malnutrition?
The web of poverty and malnutrition
The report states that the poorest section of the society is trapped in the web of poverty and malnutrition and this is the situation from generation to generation. Children of women with hunger and malnutrition suffer from stunting and underweight and are unable to achieve full human potential at any time. The effects of malnutrition in infants are not merely physical, but the brain of a child deprived of nutrition is never fully developed. A Lancet study found that undernutrition can affect the cognitive development of the newborn. It is through cognitive development that an infant learns information processing, perceptual skills, language comprehension and other essential skills in the course of their development, in addition to this, undernutrition also affects the physical development of the newborn which causes the child to show signs of disability.
Which can also affect his mobility. At the same time it affects the child’s ability to learn in school and as a result he is pushed towards a life-long poverty and an untimely future. Another Lancet study found that these undernourished children often have low-level academic performance in schools and result in low-income, high fertility rates in future, and intergenerational transmission of poverty with inappropriate care for their children (Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty ). In other words, the poor starving children of today will create the starving, unemployed and under-educated adult population of tomorrow.
Nothing appears surprising in the findings from the government report. Various studies over the last five years have revealed that the country has failed to ensure adequate nutrition to its most destitute citizens in their childbearing years. India has for a long time become the country of the most malnourished children in the world. However, some progress has also been made in reducing the level of malnutrition. The proportion of children with severe malnutrition declined from 48 percent in 2005-06 to 38.4 percent in 2015-16. The percentage of underweight children declined from 42.5 percent to 35.7 percent during this period. Also, the status of anemia in infants has come down from 69.5 percent to 58.5 percent but it can be considered as very limited progress.
An ambitious goal
The government’s National Nutrition Mission- NNM, which has been renamed as ‘Nutrition Campaign’, aims at stunting (a measure of malnutrition defined as age-appropriate shortening) at 2 per year. With the percentage reduction, the proportion of stunting children in the population is to be brought down to 25 percent by the year 2022. But to achieve this common goal, India will have to double its current pace, then India can achieve the above goals.
The details and reports of the recent meetings of the Executive Committee of the Nutrition Campaign do not show such facts on the basis of which the goals of this campaign can be met by the year 2022. A year after the start of the campaign, only 16 percent of the funds allocated to them by the state and union territories could be utilized. Under the campaign, by the month of March of this year, rice and milk were to be provided in one district of each state, fortified (such food grains which use various techniques to increase its nutritional value). But in the recently concluded meeting, it has been revealed that such a program has not even started and the officials in charge of public distribution are still not competent for it. Anganwadi centers will have an important role in the delivery of services to mothers and babies. But other states including Bihar and Odisha which have large number of malnourished children are facing difficulty in setting up anganwadi centers and appointing workers. The highest levels of stunting and underweight children are found in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra and a few selected states have the key to ending the tragedy of child nutrition.
Malnutrition is a reflection of the age-old pattern or pattern of social and economic exclusion. The perceived social unequalities prevailing in India have increased economic inequality. In India, mainly the same class is the victim of malnutrition and deprivation which has been facing historical non-equality. For example, 40 percent children of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Scheduled Castes (SC) are victims of stunting. Around 40 percent of the children from Other Backward Classes (OBC) also suffer from stunting. Lack of nutrition in child age can affect their physical and mental development and they are cursed to be pushed into the margins of society forever. As a result, this vicious cycle of malnutrition and poverty continues.
It is worth noting that stunting and malnutrition start not from the child but from the pregnant mother. In India, women are often forced to remain second-class citizens. The negligible participation of women in social and economic decisions also indirectly affects their health. Physical issues related to women make them more vulnerable along with other disabilities. Its side effects begin to be indicated since adolescence. The teenager suffering from malnutrition and anemia has an innate tendency to become a malnourished and anemia pregnant mother in the future and the children resulting from it are more prone to stunting.
Food access problem
As Amartya Sen has said, famine does not originate from lack of food, but due to insufficient access to food. The road to access food for the poor and the underprivileged is blocked due to social, administrative and economic constraints. Disabled or indifferent governments at the state, district and local levels see the poor and deprived as second-class citizens and do not attempt to drive them out of hunger and poverty. It then directly affects the nutritional status of pregnant mothers and infants.
Measures to reduce malnutrition in India
Malnutrition is considered to be the biggest problem for any country or society at the present time. The nature of malnutrition is serious in its own right and its end is necessary to maintain the development and harmony of a country. Malnutrition leads to a never ending vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. In such a situation even equality of legal opportunity cannot enable people to access resources equally. An infant whose cognitive development has not taken place properly will not be able to compete with other competent people in various stages of his life from school. This situation will continue to be passed down from generation to generation until it is taken out of the situation by various efforts. Following efforts can be made to tackle malnutrition:
Emphasis on women empowerment and their health: Women often represent half the population of any society, despite this they suffer from deprivation due to various reasons. This condition continues for life. It is necessary for women to be strong and healthy to end malnutrition. For this, Anganwadi centers should be made more efficient, as well as positive steps like government schemes and reservation can be taken to promote women education. It is believed that for a healthy family, it is very important for a woman to be educated.
Positive trend of the government machinery towards the people: India has a wide geographical diversity. Due to this, the health related problems of the people are also different. In this case, central schemes should be prepared according to their needs at the state and local level. Apart from this, it is also necessary to be sensitive to the people of the government machinery so that there is no bureaucratic hindrance in the implementation of various schemes but can become the messenger of public welfare.
By increasing the food’s durability and nutrition: It is estimated that 40 percent of food grains in India are wasted in some form or the other. This food can eliminate the problem of hunger in India. There is a need in India to put into practice a policy and idea that makes people vulnerable to food waste so that sustainable use of food is possible.
By encouraging fortified food: Fortified food can play an important role in ending malnutrition in India. The government is already promoting fortified rice, there is a need for other similar efforts by the government, as it may provide essential nutrients to the deprived and malnourished population at a lower price.
Much attention is being paid to the government’s goal of transforming India into a $ 5 trillion economy in the next five years. There can be considerable debate on whether the government will succeed in achieving this goal. But such an aspiration seems to ignore a big reality. The bulk of the society which constitutes one-fifth of the country’s population constitutes the poorest share and it is still deprived of the touch of the modern economy which other parts of the population are reaping. A part of the country is living in the 21st century economy and is able to consume all the things of the modern era. There is also a large part in India that food is not available in sufficient quantity to satisfy its hunger. The inequality prevailing in the economic and nutritional sector in a country can become a hindrance in the overall development of that country.
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