[Editorial Analysis] The missing egg in Indian children’s diet

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice

Prelims level: National Family Health Survey

Mains level: Issues relating to poverty and hunger

Context

• After a gap of 13 years, the newly-elected Congress government in Chhattisgarh reintroduced eggs in mid-day meals served to school-going children.

• The decision followed a survey, which found regular meals fell short of the recommended calorie intake.

• At a time when food choices are being held hostage to religious tradition, the decision marks a refreshing policy change.

• More so in a state where 47% of the under-five children are malnourished and 53% are stunted, or they have lower height for their age.

• The decision of the Chhattisgarh government came a day after Jharkhand, which was witness to at least 17 hunger-related deaths in the past year, decided to reduce the number of eggs served in public childcare centres, also known as anganwadis, from three to two per week to adjust for rising costs.

Why eggs for child nutrition are so significant?

• Eggs are critical to child nutrition as they are safe, affordable and are an excellent source of nutrition, which children eat without a fuss.

• In addition, they cannot be adulterated and have a longer shelf life, making them a perfect choice for public programmes.

• Yet, in a country like India, where 36% of the under-five children are underweight, only 12 states serve eggs under various nutrition schemes.

• While Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu serve five eggs per week, states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where incidence of undernourishment is high, do not serve eggs at all, citing religious and cultural traditions. Such top-down political decisions often ignore social preferences, say, among tribes and the scheduled castes, who are mostly non-vegetarians.

• The macro data also shows that the majority of Indians consume animal protein in one form or another.

What the National Family Health Survey data says?

• According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, over half of the population in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are non-vegetarians, while the share is comparatively lower in Gujarat (38%) and Rajasthan (29%).

• An interesting result from the survey is that, since 2005-06, consumption of eggs increased the most among the poorest, likely due to better affordability and availability.

• There is a strong case for students to have an option of choosing eggs in government meal schemes.

• It is often argued that India, the world’s sixth-largest and the fastest-growing major economy, will reap an enormous demographic dividend.

Conclusion

• The fact that India is also home to a quarter of the world’s hungry with a higher prevalence of undernourishment among children is a damper in that narrative.

• India is raising a vast population of uneducated, malnourished and unskilled workforce who will also have poor health and cognitive abilities.

• The sooner Indian politicians and policymakers understand the economic gains from investing in affordable health, education and nutrition, the better.

• Stoking religious sentiments while making policy choices on food may or may not earn electoral dividends, but it definitely stands to mess up India’s economic future.

• That is why it is crucial to have an honest conversation, sunny side up, around eggs.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) According to the Global Burden of Disease study 2016 published in The Lancet, consider the following statements:

A. India ranks 150th among 195 countries in terms of healthcare access and quality.

B. Among the states of India, healthcare access and quality has made the highest improvement in healthcare access and quality.

Choose the correct option:

A. A only

B. B only

C. Both A and B

D. Neither A nor B

Correct Answer: D

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Why eggs for children nutrition’s are so significant in India?

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