India ranks 107 in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022 out of 121 countries. But there's a bigger problem that the country needs to deal with it: poor nutrition or nutrient deficiencies among its population, especially among children and young women.
In a statement released last year, the Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) Association of India had warned that many children in country are facing life-threatening Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), especially after the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted the delivery of supplementary nutrition for nearly two years. The Association stressed the need for an accelerated community program to protect these children, particularly those belonging to vulnerable sections of society. The National Family Health Survey-5 (phase 1) report also revealed an increase in the incidence of Severe Acute Malnutrition in 16 out of 22 states and Union Territories. In about half of these states, the incidence of SAM is found higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
Majority of the Indian population (80%) suffer from MiND (micronutrient deficiencies), according to a 2022 report released by the Consumer Health Division of Bayer. Globally, over two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and nearly half of these people live in India, it stated. Experts called it a "hidden hunger."
Dr. Nandita Chakraborty (MD, DNB, and Wellness Communication & EI Coach), Trustee & General Physician at Lotus Petal Foundation, commented, "Access to nutritious food is a basic right of every individual. However, for children from underprivileged backgrounds access to two meals a day is also a challenge. This nutritional deficiency is generational."
According to the survey report, malnutrition among women aged 15 to 49 years is 18.7%.
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Talking about the health effects of nutritional deficiency, Dr. Nandita stated, "Lack of nutrition in young women not only affects their health but also the health of their children. While women are at a risk of anaemia, pre-eclampsia, haemorrhage and event death at the time of childbirth, there is also a risk of stillbirth, low birthweight, wasting and developmental delays for their children."
She added, "Children's development and learning are affected by nutritional deficiencies. Both their physical and cognitive development may be hampered by it. Children who are undernourished exhibit signs of lower energy levels and have trouble focusing and understanding what is being taught in the class. Due to frequent sick days, we have also noticed low school attendance among these kids."
How to improve nutrition for people in India
According to Dr. Nandita, nutrition for children should start with the mother. "Maternal nutrition plays an important role in ensuring a healthy mother and a healthy child. Food and gender inequality has greatly affected the diet of women worldwide and these need to be addressed. Various government programs like the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), POSHAN (Prime Minister's Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition) Abhiyaan, etc. need to be implemented properly to reach more and more people to ensure holistic development of women, children and adolescents," she noted.