The problem of malnutrition prevailing in India and the efforts made by the government in this context

India has slipped from 94th (the year 2020) place to 101st rank in the ‘Global Hunger Index-2021’ (GHI) of 116 countries. With a score of 38.8, the level of hunger prevailing in India is in the ‘severe’ category. It has revealed the urgency and needs to bring about a change in India’s nutrition policy.

Findings of the ‘Global Hunger Index

The problem of malnutrition prevailing in India


The Global Hunger Index has a total of four components. India’s performance in these four components is as follows-

  • Undernutrition: The share of undernourished in the population was found to be 15.3% in the year 2018-2020.
  • Child Stunting: The prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age stood at 34.7% in 2016-2020.
  • Child wasting: The prevalence of wasting among children under 5 years of age stood at 17.3% in 2016-2020.
  • Child Mortality Rate: The mortality rate of children below the age of 5 years was found to be 3.4% in the year 2019.
  • Analysis: India has made substantial progress since the year 2000, but still many issues of concern, especially with respect to child nutrition, remain.

India’s ‘Global Hunger Index’ score has decreased.

The proportion of the undernourished in the population and the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 are now relatively low.

Although there has been a significant reduction in child stunting, the level still remains very high.

Despite progress over time, India continues to have the highest child wasting rate among all other countries included in the GHI.

Reasons of malnutrition

There are many dimensions of malnutrition in India, which include-

Calorie deficit: Although there is a surplus of food grains with the government, there is still a caloric deficit across the country because of a lack of proper allocation and distribution. Even the allocated annual budget is not fully utilized.

‘Protein Hunger’: Pulses have a big contribution in removing protein hunger. But adequate budgetary allocation has not been made to deal with the problem. Eggs are not included in the mid-day meal in various states, thereby missing an easy opportunity to improve protein intake.

Micronutrient deficiency (also known as “disguised starvation”): India is facing a serious crisis of micronutrient deficiency. Causes include a poor diet, illness, or not meeting the increased requirements for micronutrients during pregnancy and lactation.

Other reasons: Access to nutritious food is only one of the determinants of nutrition. Some other factors that contribute to this hopeless situation are-

Better access to safe drinking water;

worse access to sanitation (especially toilets);

low level of vaccination; And

The poor condition of education—especially women’s education.

government intervention

‘Eat Right India Movement’: An outreach activity organized by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to encourage citizens to consume food properly.

POSHAN Abhiyaan: This campaign launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the year 2018 aims to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anemia (in young children, women, and adolescent girls).

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana: Implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, this centrally sponsored scheme is a maternity benefit program, which is being implemented in all the districts of the country from January 1, 2017.

Food Fortification: Food fortification refers to the process of attaching key vitamins and minerals (such as iron, iodine, zinc, vitamins A and D) to staple foods such as rice, milk, and salt, in order to improve their nutritional content. can be brought

National Food Security Act, 2013: It legally entitles 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System.

Mission Indradhanush: It targets children below 2 years of age and pregnant women to be vaccinated against 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPDs).

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme: Launched on October 2, 1975, the scheme provides a package of six services to children in the age group of 0-6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers, including:

  • nutritional supplement,
  • pre-school non-formal education,
  • nutrition and health education,
  • vaccination,
  • health checkup and
  • Referral Services.

way ahead

Agriculture-Nutrition linkage schemes have the potential to generate massive impact in terms of tackling malnutrition and hence there is a need to give more emphasis on these.

Recognizing the importance of this linkage, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched the ‘Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh’ in the year 2019.

There is a need to promote schemes directed for nutrition-agriculture linkage activities in rural areas. However, its implementation is also very important.

Speedy fund disbursement: The government needs to ensure speedy disbursement of funds and optimum utilization of funds in nutrition-related schemes.

Ensuring full utilization of resources: It has been highlighted at times that the expenditure under various nutrition-based schemes has been substantially less than the funds allocated to this head. Therefore, there is a need to lay more emphasis on implementation.

Convergence with other schemes: The topic of nutrition is not limited to diet alone and factors such as economic system, health, water, sanitation, gender attitudes, and social norms also contribute to better nutrition. This is the reason why proper implementation of other schemes can also contribute to better nutrition.

The convergence of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Jal Jeevan Mission with nutrition-related schemes will bring about a holistic change in the nutrition landscape of India.

Mid-Day Meal Scheme: The objective of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is to enhance the nutrition of school children by providing a balanced diet in schools. Inclusion of milk and eggs in the menu of each state and preparing the menu based on climatic conditions, local food items, etc. can help in providing the right nutrition to the children.

Conclusion

With the largest number of undernourished people in the world, India needs to move fast towards achieving ‘Zero Hunger Sustainable Development Goal-2 by 2030.

According to the World Food Program and the World Bank, malnutrition affects cognitive ability, working days, and health.

In this sense, addressing India’s nutrition problem will not only lead to better nutritional outcomes but also pave the way for building a prosperous nation.

The new GHI ranking should prompt us to reflect on our policy priorities and interventions and ensure that they can effectively address the concerns—particularly the problem of nutritional insecurity caused by COVID-19.

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