Shoddy implementation of the mid-day meal scheme can have some serious implications on a child's health

Deficiencies in a child's growing years can lead to stunting, low weight to height ratio or underweight issues, anaemia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Myupchar August 26, 2019 13:13:34 IST
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Shoddy implementation of the mid-day meal scheme can have some serious implications on a child's health
  • On 23 August, news reports came in that around 100 students at a school in Mirzapur, UP, had been filmed eating salt and rotis for lunch

  • As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, every third child in India is malnourished

  • Deficiencies in a child's growing years can lead to stunting, low weight to height ratio or underweight issues, anaemia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies

The mid-day meal scheme is a 1995 government of India (GoI) initiative to tackle undernourishment and encourage children from poorer sections to attend school. Under the mid-day meal rules, 2015, every child in primary school must get a total of 450 calories and those in upper primary, a 700-calorie meal free of cost, once a day, every day.

On 23 August, news reports came in that around 100 students at a school in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, had been filmed eating salt and rotis for lunch, instead of the promised pulses, vegetables and grains.

Shoddy implementation of the midday meal scheme can have some serious implications on a childs health

Representational image. Reuters

This is, of course, not the first time issues with the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme — in Uttar Pradesh as well as other parts of India — have been brought to light. And, without doubt, lapses such as these can seriously impact a child's health and development. In the case of the Mirzapur school, the children were in classes 1 through 8, roughly between 5 years and 13 years old.

India has a huge burden of malnutrition. As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, every third child in India is malnourished. This includes underweight children (37.5%), stunted (38.4%) and wasted (21%) under the age of 5. Socioeconomic status and parental undernourishment are said to perpetuate malnutrition in children and newborns.

Growing years

Children don’t just eat for energy. For proper development, they need both macro and micronutrients. Deficiencies in these growing years can lead to stunting — less than normal height, wasting — low weight to height ratio or underweight issues, anaemia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It also has a major impact on the cognitive development and problem-solving skills of children - malnourished children find it difficult to focus, understand and learn new things.

For the proper development of their physical, mental and physiological health, they must take adequate amounts of proteins, carbs, fats and other important nutrients in every meal.

Macronutrients

Carbohydrates, protein and fat constitute the macronutrient category. All of these play primary roles in early growth and development.

Carbs are the primary source of energy - simple carbs from sugars burn quickly and provide instant energy, complex carbs and fibres from cereals and grains ensure that the body can maintain optimal glucose levels hours after the meal.

Proteins in the form of pulses and eggs are essential for the development of immunity and muscle mass. It also helps the body to repair normal wear and tear.

Similarly, fats and oils help build the body’s insulation for maintenance of homeostasis and normal body temperature. They are also important for the formation of various enzymes, hormones and hence the regulation of some metabolic processes.

Micronutrients

Vitamins and minerals are important for metabolism and the proper functioning of the body. As per the National Health Portal of India, a child’s plate should be filled with as many colours as possible. Red, yellow and orange foods are good sources of vitamin A, which is needed for proper development of eyesight and immunity. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins that promote overall health.

Similarly, calcium and vitamin D-rich foods like eggs, meat, milk and dairy products ensure the proper development of bones and muscles.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

The Indian Institute of Nutrition includes the following dietary guidelines for children by age groups

Food

Portion (in grams)

4-6 years (number of portions)

7-9 years (number of portions)

10-12 years (number of portions)

Cereals and millets

30

4

6

Boys:10 Girls:8

Pulses

30

1

2

Boys:2 Girls:2

Milk (ml) and milk products

100

5

5

Boys:5 Girls:5

Green leafy vegetables

100

0.5

1

Boys:1 Girls:1

Fat, oil

5

5

6

Boys:7 Girls:7

Table source: Indian Institute of Nutrition

The mid-day meal guidelines were prepared in line with these values.

Items

For children of primary classes

For children of upper primary classes

A) Nutritional Norms (Per child per day)

Calorie

450

700

Protein

12 gms

20 gms

B) Food Norms (Per child per day)

Food-grains

100 gms

150 gms

Pulses

20 gms

30 gms

Vegetables

50 gms

75 gms

Oil & fat

5 gms

7.5 gms

Salt & condiments

As per need

As per need

Table source: Ministry of Human Resource Development’s Measurement of Nutrition Value of Mid Day Meal, dated 4 August 2016

Though news reports from Mirzapur didn’t specify the number of rotis given to each child, consider the numbers. One chappati contains around 100 calories - that is less than one-fourth the promised calories for young children. Made of wheat flour and water, rotis have small quantities of iron but very little else by way of vitamins and minerals. And while salt consumption may help to maintain electrolyte balance (iodized salt is more beneficial, of course), salt alone cannot make up for the lack of egg and dal proteins and vegetables on the plate.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/malnutrition

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