Chronic malnutrition: India currently has the highest proportion of undernourished individuals in South Asia

This is primarily due to India's inability to prevent undernutrition throughout the 1000-day period, which runs from conception to the age of two. As a result, this has emerged as one of the most pressing issues confronting India's development planners in recent years.

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Chronic malnutrition: India currently has the highest proportion of undernourished individuals in South Asia

Around 800 million people are currently suffering from chronic malnutrition in developing nations. India currently has the highest proportion of undernourished individuals in South Asia and is one of the world’s poorest countries. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks India 94th out of 107 nations in 2020, with a score of 27.2, putting it in the ‘serious’ category. According to the GHI report 2020, 14% of India’s population was malnourished.

Simultaneously, the latest National Family Health Survey of 2019-20 (NFHS-5) revealed that the rate of malnutrition in India has grown between 2015-16. This is primarily due to India’s inability to prevent undernutrition throughout the 1000-day period, which runs from conception to the age of two. As a result, this has emerged as one of the most pressing issues confronting India’s development planners in recent years.

Also Read: Is India under Serious Threats of Triple Burden of Malnutrition?

The reason behind the Chronic Malnutrition

Women’s malnutrition is a major cause of low birth weight kids and stunted growth. Low birth weight is a major cause of infant mortality. At the same time, the newborns that survive are more likely to suffer from growth retardation and sickness throughout their lives, and growth-retarded adult women are more likely to perpetuate the malnutrition cycle by giving birth to low-weight babies. Household food instability, poor diets, insufficient preventative and curative health services, and a lack of information about antenatal (prenatal) care of pregnant women and infant feeding practices all contribute to undernutrition. Furthermore, unequal food distribution within the household – in which women and girl children receive less food than male members of the family – is a problem.

The healthcare environment in India is characterised by a wide range of existing and emerging diseases that affect people throughout their lives, many of which are caused by malnutrition. The prevention of malnutrition-related chronic diseases necessitates a different strategy for ensuring that people consume an energy-sufficient and nutritionally appropriate diet at all stages of their lives. The nutritional status of children, adolescents, and women in India will be the finest litmus test for such a policy.

Traditionally, India’s nutrition strategy has relied on nutrition-specific laws and programmes such as the National Food Security Act (NAFSA), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mid-Day Meal Program, Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Balwadi Nutrition Program, and others.

However, it can be demonstrated that such discrete nutrition-specific interventions have failed to enhance the nutrition status of the target population over time. This is because, while such programmes have succeeded in lowering household food insecurity to some extent, they have failed to address the issue of unequal food distribution within the household, as a result of which women and children (particularly the girl child) are denied adequate food intake.

A More Holistic and Inclusive Approach Is Required

  • One critical reason for this shortcoming is that this nutrition-specific approach has failed to connect nutrition programmes with other flagship health programmes, such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), and so on, all of which have strong links to nutritional outcomes.
  • Improved integration of these programmes will benefit adolescent females, pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, and children’s nutritional status. For example, the Mid-Day Meal programme is a nutrition programme (which provides schoolchildren with lunch) that aims to improve the nutritional status of children and adolescents.
  • Certain initiatives are currently multisectoral in character, and their effectiveness bodes well for future convergence of health and nutrition services. Maternity benefit programmes aim to improve the health and nutritional condition of expecting and lactating mothers by encouraging favourable health behaviours such as service utilisation during pregnancy and safe delivery.
  • Nutritional status is linked to clean water, sanitation, women’s empowerment, education, non-discriminatory social structures, and a well-resourced and efficient health system.
  • High-quality, multidisciplinary nutrition research, as well as effective convergences of health and nutrition initiatives, are critical to enhancing national health.

Policymakers recognize the need for convergence in planning and implementation; yet, effective venues for consultation and coordination are not yet present. Convergence should occur at the state, district, block, and village levels, as planning and implementation should be decentralized as much as feasible.

Proper nutrition is essential for good health as well as disease prevention, treatment, and management. A sustainable and balanced diet is an absolute necessity throughout one’s life. The relationship between food, nutrition, and health, on the other hand, is complicated, dynamic, and multidimensional.

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Chronic malnutrition: India currently has the highest proportion of undernourished individuals in South Asia
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This is primarily due to India's inability to prevent undernutrition throughout the 1000-day period, which runs from conception to the age of two. As a result, this has emerged as one of the most pressing issues confronting India's development planners in recent years.
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THE POLICY TIMES
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