Why ensuring nutrition for its children is emerging as India’s silent emergency
Better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases and longevity
With a population of over 1.25 billion, 22 official languages and half a dozen major religions, India has always been a country with a unique blend of paradoxes. There are numerous data to substantiate our claims on accomplishments. Our glorious traditions, rich history and heritage, vibrant and secular democracy, and multicultural, multilingual peaceful co-existence have given India a special place on the global map.
However, today, even after seven decades of independence, India ranks poorly in terms of its food and nutrition security indicators, which has, further worsened post-Covid-19 pandemic.
Over half of Indian women in the age group 15-49 years are anaemic. There has been a rise in anaemic Indian women since 2016 from 52.6 per cent to 53 per cent in 2020. Over 19.3 per cent of Indian children, under five years of age are affected by childhood wasting as per NFHS 5. India is also among 23 countries that have made no progress or are worsening on reducing ‘childhood wasting’.
Over 34 per cent of children, under five years of age are still affected by stunting. India is among 53 countries ‘on course’ to meet the target for stunting. It has also been reported that children under 5 who are overweight has increased from 2.1 to 3.4 per cent as per NFHS 5. India runs the risk of an impending epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases related to poor nutrition and changing lifestyle factors. Thus, with both under-nutrition and rising obesity India has a double burden of malnutrition with huge scope to improve these indicators that needs urgent attention.
Furthermore, micronutrient deficiency, popularly known as hidden hunger such as deficiencies in Iron, Iodine, Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin D and Calcium can cause several issues. It has severe consequences – like low cognitive development, lowering of IQ, reducing physical work capacity, adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes, reduced individual earning and ultimately losses to GDP.
Nutrition matters in development of children
Nutrition is a critical part of health and development. Better nutrition is related to the improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and longevity. Healthy children also learn better. It also help in establishing a foundation for healthy eating habits and nutritional knowledge that your child can apply throughout life.
What nutrients do to children need?
Eating healthy and nutritious food can help your child to
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Strengthen immunity thereby reducing the risk of infectious diseases
- Reduce the risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia
- Maintain healthy teeth and avoid dental caries
- Have stronger bones
- Reduce the risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases later in adult life.
Help your child develop healthy eating habits
- Include varieties of fruits and vegetables
- Whole fruits instead of juice:Whole fruits are a good source of healthy fibre. Extracting juice may strip off its valuable dietary fibre content. But if your child does not enjoy eating whole fruits, you can blend the whole fruit into a smoothie without adding sugar
- Limit the consumption of processed foods:Pre-packaged snacks and processed foods such as chips, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits and wafers are high in sugars, calories and industrially produced trans-fats which are harmful to your child’s health.
- Reduce their sugar consumption:Sugar intake increases the risk of tooth decay or dental caries as well as unhealthy weight gain and risk of heart diseases later in life. Limit consumption of all types of sweets and beverages with added sugars.
- Include iron-rich sourceslike dates, dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, vegetables, etc
- Choose whole grainssuch as whole-wheat chapattis, bread, millets, oats, brown rice etc over refined grains such as white rice, and bread.
Good nutrition is a key driver in addressing India’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Good nutrition can reduce the disease burden and address the issues related to the food system. Children need proper nutrition in the form of healthy, balanced meals each & every day. A child’s meals should consist of at least five food groups. A child receiving all the nutrients will live a healthier lifestyle.
The author is Manager-North & West Health & Nutrition, Save the Children. Views are personal.
Plain yoghurt is considered to be good for people with diabetes. However, that is not the case with fruit-flavoured varieties, which should be avoided
Accepting the G20 presidency, PM Modi declared that India will organise G-20 meetings in different cities and states of the country. Visitors to India will get full experience of its amazing diversity, inclusive traditions, and cultural richness