India’s decades of public sector initiatives still have gaps in delivering comprehensive nutrition support to our children. The nation ranks among African countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia on global nutrition reports, and is home to the world’s highest number of children suffering from malnutrition (World Bank). 44% of children under 5 are underweight, and 72% of infants have anaemia. This has led to stunting, caused by severe malnutrition during the most critical periods of childhood. Because of malnutrition, children have reduced mental capacity, and are prone to learning disabilities and a higher risk of other illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes.
1. Teaching about nutrition
After identifying the optimum nutrient mix, it is important to ensure its delivery to children. Mothers and workers who interact with children must be taught about the right type and amount of nutrition, and encouraging the consumption of a variety of calorific foods. For example, many rural mothers may not know that if their child has diarrhoea, they should increase their child’s fluid intake and continue to feed them normally. Instead, as per National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -3 data , nine out of 10 mothers do not follow this recommendation, and four out of 10 mothers reduce their child’s fluid intake.
3. Enhance mid-day meals
India’s Rs 13,000 crore Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM) seeks to provide daily meals to 10 crore children in almost 12 lakh schools in classes 1 to 8 across government and government-aided schools. It has dedicated nutrition goals (450 to 700 calories, and 12 to 20 grammes of protein respectively for primary and upper primary school children). It suffers from two key issues:
i. Hygiene issues
There have been multiple incidents of unhygienic mid-day meals. Pests have been spotted, year-on-year, in meals. There are also issues in water testing, no use of gloves, and violation of prescribed menus.
85% of Indian children between the ages of 7 to 12 have deficiencies of iron, folic acid, Vitamin A, which can impair cognitive development, impair concentration, cause school absenteeism and even illness. Mid-Day meals like rice and wheat can be fortified with micronutrients, with premixes. However, fortification has only made its debut in some states.
4. Donate to NGO fundraising
Child rights organisations like Save the Children is working to enhance nutrition status of children in India’s most backward communities. Children are provided nutrition rehab, and other healthcare services, facilitated by health workers trained by the NGO. It has also initiated awareness program among communities (mothers, elders of the family, school teachers, etc.). Malnourished children are moved to government healthcare centres. This is supplemented by Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes, improving community hygiene and sanitation to prevent diarrhea – a leading cause of malnutrition.
5. Invest on social welfare
Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are the best examples of how social welfare program can achieve good nutrition indicators. The states have extended a wide range of healthcare services, clean water, social security and basic infrastructure. Disadvantaged groups are encouraged to participate in having their voice heard about support for social development across political parties. Tamil Nadu, for examples, offers pioneering schemes in maternity entitlements, community kitchens and nursing rooms at bus stands.
As per End-2014 results, India witnessed a dramatic fall in underweight and stunted children (from 48 % to 39 % (2005-6 and 2013-14), translating to a 14.5 million fewer stunted children, a big achievement for India, home to the shortest kids in the world. A nation-wide Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), showed a marked improvement in malnutrition. NGO Save the Children incurs high expenditure on food rations needed, for food rehabilitation, as well as nutrition screening across India. Donate to charity to support these life-saving capabilities. The NGO is also participating in the government’s goal to end open defecation, an important cause of diarrhea.