National Nutrition Month 2020: Identifying children with acute malnutrition, ensuring balanced diet key to better health
The first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and fosters better development overall.
A healthy diet and adequate amount of nutrition consumption ensure optimal growth and development for an individual. Adequate nutrition is a prerequisite for a healthy life and it reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
The National Nutrition Week was initiated in the year 1973 by the members of the American Dietetic Association to educate the public on the importance of nutrition. In the year 1982, the Government of India started the National Nutrition Week in India in order to spread awareness and encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle by talking about the importance of nutrition. Another reason behind observing this National Nutrition Week was that, in a developing country like India, malnutrition is a major hurdle which needs to be curbed.
The theme for National Nutrition Month or poshan maah this year is to identify and track children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and the promotion of kitchen gardens.
Role of nutrition in the first 1,000 days
Maternal prenatal nutrition and the child’s nutrition in the first two years of life (total 1,000 days) are crucial for the child’s neurodevelopment and lifelong mental health. Child and adult health risks, including obesity and various chronic degenerative diseases like hypertension, may be determined by the nutritional status during this period. Hence, the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and fosters better development overall.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend:
- Early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
- Adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods starting at six months, together with continued breastfeeding, up to two years of age or beyond.
National Nutrition Month initiatives
As a part of this celebration, the public is urged to grow plants, have a kitchen garden, focus on the importance of making informed food choices and develop good eating and physical habits. The focus is on starting to grow essential food at home and spreading the message that quality nutrition isn’t restrictive and that small dietary changes can have a cumulative effect on our health over time.
For the National Nutrition Month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged schools to use nutrition report cards for children to track their nutrition intake and ensure that there is awareness about nutritional needs, deficiencies and malnutrition.
There has also been an initiative of creating an agricultural fund that spreads awareness about crops grown in each district and their nutritional value. This comes at a time when it is much needed as people often do not give importance to their nutrition intake amid their fast-paced lives. The celebration of National Nutrition Month has the potential to change that for the better.
The importance of a good diet
The dietary goals should help maintain a state of positive health and optimal performance, achieve adequacy in all nutrients and prevent deficiency diseases and chronic diet-related disorders.
Consumption of a well-balanced diet with the right proportion of macro (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on a regular basis helps improve immunity, maintain good microbial flora, prevent diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, help ensure healthy ageing and increase life expectancy.
This can be achieved by encouraging diversity in one’s diet by adding a variety of whole grains, cereals, pulses and legumes, low-fat milk and its products, lean meats, seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, coupled with adequate physical activity.
Let us all pledge to eat a healthy and nutritious diet and give special attention to maternal and child nutrition for a better and healthy future.
This article was written by Ms Sandhya Pandey, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.
For more information, read our article on Nutritional deficiency.
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