Malnutrition in India: Are things finally on the up?

By Priya Saraff

There are plenty of scary statistics to grab our attention. It could be the four percent loss suffered by the Indian GDP due to malnutrition. It could be the 58 percent of children and 53 percent of women suffering from anaemia or it could be the 38 percent of children who are stunted and 36 percent who are underweight. It does not matter. The point is that malnutrition in India is a serious problem.

India and its neighbours: A comparison

The 2017 Global Hunger Index ranked India 100 out of 119, ranking its hunger problem as ‘serious’. Compared to the other South Asian countries such as China, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, only Pakistan has a lower rank than India. India’s improvement since the year 2000 in decreasing the hunger level is only 18 percent compared to the global 27 percent. From 1992 till 2017, India decreased the hunger level by 32 percent. However, India’s neighbours outperformed it. China has lowered their hunger level by 71 percent, Bangladesh by 51 percent and Nepal by 48 percent. The National Family Health Survey for the year 2015-16 revealed the extent of the stunted and underweight children in India.

Malnutrition decoded

Stunting is a condition characterised by a low height to age ratio, due to chronic malnutrition. This condition is linked to hypertension, diabetes, and low brain development. Ultimately, this is the result of malnutrition: Bad performance in school and low productivity while working. This costs the Indian economy $12 billion dollars per year, due to loss of productivity and healthcare expenditure. The government also pumps funds into the food programmes that may not reach women and children, because of family mentalities. Another part of the challenge is to provide a balanced diet, as many Indians face a shortage of proteins and micronutrients in their daily diet.

Authorities to the rescue

All this led to the launch of a National Nutrition Mission (NNM) on December 1, 2017. The main objective of the programme is to reduce stunting, malnutrition and wasting by two percent per year among 100 million people. The mission also aims to decrease anaemia in children, adolescent girls and women by three percent a year. Besides this, the NNM also has the provisions to provide all the food required to cut down stunting, wasting, anaemia and malnutrition; provide an effective delivery system for the same and also to keep a constant watch on the implementation of this scheme.

The NNM is being allocated a budget of ?9,046.17 crores over a period of three years. It will be a combined project of the Ministries of Women & Child Development, Health & Family Welfare along with the Water and Sanitation ministry. The Mission will have an information technology base.

A report by ASSOCHAM and EY, which revealed that around four percent of the GDP is lost to malnutrition, has advised a diversification of the crops produced. It takes the example of millets, which are more nutritious than rice and wheat but are generally categorised as the ‘poor man’s crop.’ The report also provided suggestions on food fortification: The act of adding micronutrients to crops as a public health measure. These measures, along with the NNM may prove to be the necessary steps required to usher in a new era of food security in India.

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