India’s malnutrition problem results not from calorie intake but from dependence on a carbohydrate based diet low in protein and fat. Another factor triggering malnutrition is inadequate sanitation, which triggers an increase in infection-borne deficiencies in nutrients. These factors have been examined at length by civil society, government research bodies and experts. In their study lies the potential for lasting solutions to end malnutrition, which can help India reap the dividend of having one of the world’s highest populations.
Malnutrition results in high infant and under-five mortality, as malnutrition compromises disease fighting ability.The estimates by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for the year 2006 show that in India, 61 million children under the age of 5 are stunted, while 53 million are underweight. Another 25 million have a low weight to height ratio, and suffer from severe acute malnutrition. This holds true despite India being host to the world’s largest programme to tackle child malnutrition, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), as well as providing the masses access to the public distribution system.
Causes of Malnutrition
1. India’s dependence on a carbohydrate based diet: We compromise on the intake of protein, fat and vitamins – all of which areessential for growth and inducing disease-fighting immunity at a young age. It is vital that Indian children get a balanced and nutrient-rich diet which includes all micro- and macronutrients need to bring about a healthy growth.
2. Poor Maternal health: This compromises resistance to diseases and nutrition value of breast milk. Poor pre-pregnancy body-mass index (BMI) and insufficient weight gain during pregnancy are common, as is blood and urine micronutrient deficiency. All of these cause low birth weight, damaging the physiological development of a child. In many Indian households, women are taught to eat last, even when expecting.
3. The role of hygiene
Access to toilets has helped improve child growth in India, yet almost 50% Indians still defecate outdoors, causing children to pick up parasites and chronic infections via the intestines. This impairs the intestine’s nutrient-absorbing ability. 1,17,000 Indian children die from diarrhoea every year (UNICEF).
Save the Children’s role to battle malnutrition:
These initiatives include:
i. Grassroots centres like the Malnutrition Treatment Centre in Tonk to address high number of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) cases
ii.Nutrition For Babies campaign: nutrition rehabilitation for the malnourished, as well as resources to mothers, nurses, doctors, and families.
iii. Save the Children’s ‘Poshan Vatika’ (nutrition garden) grows nutritious seasonal vegetables with the help of school teachers and Aanganwadi ‘Sevikas’, to be served to children through the Mid-day Meal Scheme.
iv. Chennai slums: ‘Aaharam’, (an extension of the Mission Nutrition) launched by the organisation’s partner GlaxoSmithKline is raising awareness about the causes of malnutrition among mothers, families and communities.
v. Maharashtra: Village Child Development Centre (VCDC) treated malnourished children across 30 Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres with support from local Anganwadi workers in tribal areas in the Thane district.
vi. New Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects in Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are focusing on community toilet construction, promoting and building toilets in homes and schools, and providing hand washing facilities and access to clean water. The initiative is attempting to end open defaecation – one of the leading causes of diarrhoea. School children are being given and trained to use ‘Hand Hygiene Kits’ (a jar, soap, soap case and a nail cutter). The NGO has formed Community-level ‘Toilet User Groups’ to identify land to construct toilets and plan sanitation.
India’s war on malnutrition is being aggressively fought – with some tangible and inspiring milestones. End-2014 results showed a dramatic fall in underweight and stunted children (from 48% to 39% during the years 2005-6 and 2013-14). This translates to 14.5 million stunted children- a big achievement for India, the home to the shortest kids in the world. Also, the number of infants below 6 months who are exclusively breastfed has risen from 46 % to 72 %. A nation-wide Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), showed a marked improvement in malnutrition. NGOs like Save the Children can add increased access to nutrition, as well as counseling of nutrition choices to India’s less fortunate citizens.