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A way of life

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Nutrition mindfulness should be practised all year round, not just during the National Nutrition Week, says Ronita Torcato

Almost 50% of deaths in children below five in India are due to poor nutrition. India also accounts for more than three out of every 10 stunted children in the world.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as many as two billion people suffer from nutritional deficiency.  

Needless to say, children of the rural and urban poor are worse off than their middle-class/rich counterparts. Deformed by malnutrition, these children are also wasted (severely underweight for their height) and  can never hope to be "normal". Gender biases also play a major role; women are more malnourished than men even during pregnancy. Illiterate or poorly educated mothers  and infections are also responsible for the high prevalence of diseases like rickets among infants (30% in north India alone)  

According to UNICEF, approximately 20 per cent of children under five years of age suffer from wasting, 43 per cent are underweight and 48 per cent (i.e. 61 million children) are stunted. Health issues from malnutrition include impaired cognitive ability and immune functions, lower IQs, reduced scholastic performance in the young and low productivity and an increased risk of diabetes and heart diseases in adult life.

Last year, UNICEF's Global Nutrition Report stressed the crucial importance of nutrition in the global effort to end poverty and achieve sustainable development. Sadly, the 2018 budget for primary health infrastructure has dropped by 2.1 percent. Happily, the Women and Child Development Ministry's budget for the National Nutrition Mission that aims at decreasing stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia and low birth weight of babies has risen from `950 crore in 2017-18 to `3,000 crore in 2018-19.

On September 1, the Govern-ment of India launched its 36th National Nutrition Week to increase awareness on the importance of good nutrition, which impacts health, productivity, economic growth and in the final analysis, national development. The theme this year is 'Go Further With Food'. The Women and Child Development Ministry's Food and Nutrition Board has 43 units located in 30 States/Union Territories which will coordinate with the concerned Department of the State/UT Governments  and NGOs to organise workshops, exhibitions, training  programs, and community meetings during the week on the theme. This is an extension of the work of the government's National Nutrition Mission (aka Poshan Abhiyan), which was launched earlier this year in March to address malnutrition through convergence across ministries.

"This is a great initiative by the government," says nutritionist Karishma Chawla.  "Awareness, education and adequate actions will result into success of such an initiative". (Turn to page 13 for her views on obesity.)

Regrettably, the authorities have not recognised that anganwadis first set up in 1975 under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program, are integral to the struggle against malnutrition. Funding is meagre, anganwadi workers and helpers are not entitled to minimum wages! The ICDS program envisages cooked meals, health check-ups, and immunisation services to children and lactating and pregnant mothers. But according to a National Family Health Survey, only one in two children received any service and expenditure on supplementary nutrition declined by six percent between 2015–16 and 2016–17.

Emulating the mindfulness (acute bodily awareness) of vipassana, the government's National Nutrition Week seeks to improve mindfulness  of nutritious practice and avoid junk, refined sugar and sodium-laced foods. To the poor in rural areas and urban slums, this will sound cruel, but a good diet containing immunity boosting foods are absolutely essential for children. These include protein-rich, high-fibre, good fats rich foods like whole grains, organic products, vegetables, meats, nuts, and seeds.

Short Takes

  •     On September 1, the Government of India launched its 36th National Nutrition Week to boost awareness on the importance of good nutrition.
     
  •     This is a crucial factor impacting health, productivity, economic growth, and in the final analysis, national development.
     
  •     The initiative seeks to highlight the importance of avoiding junk and sugar-laden foods, among other things.
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