2016 Global Nutrition Report

The 2016 Global Nutrition Report (GNR) was released recently providing an independent and annual review of the state of the world’s nutrition.  The vision of the GNR is “From Promise to Impact- Ending malnutrition by 2030.

Background

The recently announced Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nation’s declaring of the coming decade as the ‘The Decade of Action on Nutrition’ shows that there is renewed awareness and commitment to tackling the varied challenges of malnutrition.

India and the issue of nutrition

According to the Global Nutrition Report:

  • India ranks 114th out of 132 countries in stunting among children aged less than five years.
  • Anemia among women is also a cause of concern as India ranks 170th among 185 countries.
  • India is off the track on all targets related to malnutrition, except overweight among under-5 children.
  • Overweight and obesity among adults has been increasing and is a matter of grave concern. In India, 22% of adults are either overweight or obese and 9.5% suffer from diabetes.
  • Under-5 stunting (low height for age) is 38.7%, putting India in the 34th position among 39 Asian countries. Even for under-5 wasting (low weight for height), India ranks 35 out of 38 countries in Asia.
  • Nearly 48% of women in India are anemic, which is better than only two other countries in Asia.

Suggestions to tackle Malnutrition in India

  • political commitment
  • setting targets and accountability standards
  • addressing social exclusion
  • the need for an India Nutrition Report (INR)
  • finding solutions in Indian way
  • a new generation Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) to tackle malnutrition.
  • Creating a Nutrition Secretariat as part of the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for ensuring multi-sectoral alignment on priorities, sequencing and timelines.

Discussion

In India, there is Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) since 1975 and the mid-day meal scheme since 1995. Both the schemes have a well established national coverage. However, fault lies in the fact that there is no structure for multi-sectoral coordination which is very much essential to address the inter-generational and multifaceted nature of malnutrition.

It must be borne in mind that poor nutrition will fracture the dreams and aspirations of India to become a global player in manufacturing and other industries. The demographic dividend which India possesses will go in waste if sufficient nutrition is not provided.

Article 47 of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. Therefore, the onus lies on the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.

Schemes such as Swachh Bharat, Beti Bachao, Beti Padao, etc. are welcome moves by the government in the direction to fulfil the promise made in Article 47. However, to make the schemes much more effective, India needs to have a viable infrastructure and the mechanism to make the benefits reach the targeted population effectively.

India must convert its young population to a competitive advantage, and nutrition and health are foundational to that outcome.

India falls in the bracket of having the maximum young age population and this puts us ahead amongst all the countries in terms of demographic dividend.

There are three important schemes which relate to nutrition significantly:

  • The ICDS, which caters to the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers and children under the age of six.
  • The mid-day meal scheme, which directly feeds approximately 120 million schoolchildren every day.
  • Public distribution system, which makes available subsistence rations to above and below poverty line families.

These three are an excellent platform wherein there can be effective public-private partnerships and CSR programmes can also make a huge contribution in this regard and raise the level of nutrition.

However, to make the schemes much more effective, some measures can be undertaken. For instance, investing in the training of the Anganwadi workers so that they can work much more effectively in the case of ICDS. In the case of Mid-Day Meal scheme, addition of micronutrients to cooked food or by adding universally liked and accepted products such as milk, biscuits, etc. fortified with micronutrients as a mid-morning or afternoon snack can be a good initiative to tackle the issue of malnutrition.

If efforts in this direction are undertaken, India can definitely harness the benefits of its demographic dividend.

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