[Editorial Analysis] Nourishing the nation

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice
Prelims level: NFHS-5
Mains level: Hunger and Malnutrition

CONTEXT:

• First phase of the NFHS-5 survey was published which shows deteriorating nutrition, dietary deficiency and anaemia indicators, especially among children.

• Adolescent malnutrition (our future demographic dividend) is as alarming as child malnutrition, and for this there is no clear strategy in place yet.

• More deterioration in nutrition indicators following the COVID-19 pandemic is feared in the next phase of NFHS-5, primarily on account of loss of livelihoods, reduced food consumption among the poor and disruption of government nutrition programmes.

ISSUES:

• The current programmes are adequate and effectively target the root causes of malnutrition or if the strategies require change.

• There is the large dietary deficit among at least 40 per cent of our population of all age groups, brought out repeatedly in a succession of reports this decade — the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau’s Third Repeat Survey (2012), NFHS 4, 2015-16, the NNMB Technical Report Number 27, 2017.

• Current interventions are not being able to bridge this protein-calorie-micronutrient deficit. The NHHS-4 and NFHS-5 surveys reveal an acute dietary deficit among infants below two years, and considerable stunting and wasting of infants below six months (caused by foetal malnutrition/maternal dietary deficit).

• There is no national IEC (information, education and communication) programme that reaches targeted households to bring about the required behavioural change regarding some basic but critical facts — for example, about the importance of balanced diets in low-income household budgets, proper maternal, child and adolescent nutrition and healthcare.

• IEC and behavioural change have been highlighted in all our early Five-Year Plans, but somehow, successive governments have not been able to make it happen.

• There is an inequitable market conditions that deny affordable and energy-fortified food to children, adolescents and adults in lower-income families.

• In spite of the mandate of the National Nutrition Policy 1983 and the National Plan of Action on Nutrition 1995, the market has stacks of expensive fortified energy food and beverages for higher income groups, but nothing affordable for low-income groups except non-nutritive junk and no private entrepreneur wants to enter this field.

• There is a direct correlation between the high incidence of underweight, stunting and wasting among children, low body mass index and stunting among adolescents, and the lack of low-cost fortified energy food in the market.

WHAT TO DO?

• There is a need for higher budgetary allocations for healthcare, ICDS and monitoring systems.

• In the Indian context, it becomes the responsibility of the government/civil society to first provide information and awareness to the community about malnutrition and its causes, and then implement programmes to address them.

• The government could start showing its seriousness by examining the current nutrition-related programmes, and analyzing why they are not able to reducemalnutrition faster.

• There should be different norms and more intensive interventions within the ICDS for these chronically malnourished pockets with the poorest indicators.

• There is a need to know if the National Nutrition Policy 1993 is still operational. If it is, then there is an urgent need to update it, and prioritise interventions in accordance with the latest surveys and research findings. If not, it seems that we are attempting to address this invisible scourge without a policy framework or plan of action.

• Unless maternal/infant dietary deficit is addressed, rapid improvement can’t be seen in our nutritional indicators. This is a serious problem which needs to be acknowledged and prioritised in the public health/public policy agendas.

• There is a need to produce nutritive fortified energy food for children.

CONCLUSION:

• Raising the diet of people from subsistence level to higher levels of nourishment is the only way to improve the nutritional indicators of population — amongst children, adolescents and adults.

• The government must show its seriousness and start addressing this issue urgently through new ideas and innovations.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the e-Sampada, consider the following statements:
1. It is an initiative of the Directorate of Estates, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

2. The new application provides a single window for all services including allotment for over one lakh government residential accommodations and office space allotment to government organisations.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Improving diet of low-income households is only way to address chronic malnutrition. Critically analyse the statement.

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