14th September – Eradicating Malnutrition

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent call in his monthly “Mann ki Baat” radio programme to intensify the drive against malnutrition by making it a mass movement is a well-judged and need-driven move to curb this scourge.

Eradicating Malnutrition

Extent of the issue –

  • Going by the Food and Nutrition Security Analysis Report 2019 of the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (based on 2015-16 data), 38.4 per cent of the Indian population suffers from chronic malnutrition.
  • While about 35.7 per cent children are underweight, 58.5 per cent of them are anaemic.
  • Worse still, malnutrition is prevalent among both the poor and the rich, though in the latter case it is manifested in the form of obesity, nutritional imbalance, and attendant health disorders.

Impact of malnutrition –

Retarded growth, low body weight, inadequate brain development, and poor immunity among children are the prominent signs of improper, imbalanced and insufficient nourishment. Low productivity of labour in India is also attributed partly to undernourishment.

Performance of earlier schemes –

  • The ongoing food security initiatives, including the right-to-food law and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, have not dented undernourishment and disguised hunger to the desired extent.
  • Most of the nutrition-oriented schemes are focused narrowly on achieving just one or couple of objectives at a time rather than striking simultaneously at all the facets of this menace. Besides, there is no coordination between them to tap their synergies.
  • The funds earmarked for them often remain under-utilised. Moreover, many of them, including the mid-day meal in schools and supplementary feeding in Anganwadis, tend to concentrate just on providing food with least regard to its nutritional aspect.

National Nutrition Mission –

  • A National Nutrition Mission was launched in March last year by the government. It aimed at a 2-3 per cent annual reduction in the rate of low birth weight, stunted growth, undernourishment and anaemia among children, adolescent girls and women.
  • The Mission, subsequently upgraded and renamed Poshan Abhiyaan (nutrition drive), was given even a more daunting task of creating a “Kuposhan Mukt Bharat” (malnutrition-free India) by 2022.

Way forward –

  • The basic strategy to combat malnutrition would have to be cast afresh with greater stress on scientific approaches. One way to do this is to diversify the supply of foods under the government schemes by including more nutritious items, such as millets (hailed commonly as nutri-cereals), eggs, milk, soybean products, and other nutrient-dense fresh and processed foods.
  • Methods are now known to fortify mass-consumed foods, such as rice, wheat, salt, edible oils, and milk, with essential minerals and vitamins like iron, iodine, zinc, and vitamin A and D. This can help stave off health disorders resulting from deficiencies of these nutrients.
  • Technologies are also available to evolve bio-fortified crops having an inherent capability to synthesise the desired vitamins or minerals. The Golden Rice having a higher Vitamin A content is a typical case in point. It is helping to alleviate blindness in many countries. India, too, can take advantage of such technologies to eradicate malnutrition.

SourceBusiness Standard

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