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How Can India Eliminate Hidden Hunger

Health experts have warned of an emerging problem of hidden hunger among urban Indian population.

A UN report released last month highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prevalence of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition worldwide. According to the 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI), the number of people affected by hunger and food insecurity increased by 150 million and 350 million respectively since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. While 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, around 2.3 billion people faced food insecurity in the same year, the report stated. India was ranked 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, a drop by seven spots compared to the 2020 ranking.

Meanwhile, health experts and nutritionists have raised concern about an emerging problem of hidden hunger and micronutrient deficiency among the urban Indian population.

What is hidden hunger?

Nutrition & Wellness expert Sheela Krishnaswamy said, "The presence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies in the absence of an energy-deficit diet is often described as 'hidden hunger'. Today, close to 2 billion people suffer from a lack of micronutrients in their diet, and up to 2.8 million deaths annually are attributable to iron, vitamin A, or zinc deficiency, according to global data estimates."

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Amarpreet Singh Anand, Founder, Superfoods Valley, added, "Hidden hunger does not necessarily lead to 'visible' clinical symptoms, and so it can be more difficult to garner attention, investment, or action to solve it."

Superfoods Valley is a nutrition and food-tech company that is trying to find realistic solutions to the problem of hidden hunger and micronutrient deficiency in India.

A UN report says millions of children below 5 years are suffering from wasting. Where India stands here?

Amarpreet responded: Since 2000, India has made substantial progress, but there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition. While child stunting has seen a significant decrease from 54.2 per cent in 1998-1999 to 34.7 per cent in 2016-2018 it is still considered very high.

India has the highest child wasting rate (17.3 per cent) of all countries covered in the GHI. Undernourishment in India is still alarming as pan India, 5 key micronutrient deficiencies are reported namely Iron, Vit D, Folate, B12, and Vit A.

What steps can be taken to eliminate hidden hunger in the country?

Amarpreet replied: Globally and locally, various strategies have been employed to improve micronutrient intake including supplementation, food fortification, increasing diet diversity and more. Food supplementation programmes like iron and folic acid have done much to improve health amongst pregnant moms. Food fortification like the iodization of salt is mandatory in many countries. Many packaged food makers have taken the plunge to fortify their products with key micronutrients and Superfoods Valley is one of them, solving for nutrition gap in the country.

India has 'serious' levels of hunger

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) determines hunger on a 100-point scale where zero is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. With a score of 27.5 on the GHI scale, India has a level of hunger that is serious.

GHI scores are based on data estimates for four components undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and under-five mortality. 15.3 per cent of the Indian population is undernourished. 17.3 per cent of children under five are wasted and 34.7 per cent are stunted. Only 15 countries fare worse than India and it is behind most of the neighboring countries like Nepal (76 rank), Bangladesh, (76 rank), Pakistan (92 rank). There has been a decline since 2000 but progress is slow.

Secondly, each of these components is given a standardized score. Thirdly, these scores are aggregated to calculate the GHI score on a 100-point scale where 0 is the best score and 100 is the worst.

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