Malnutrition occurs when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients required to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.
The state of Meghalaya has the highest percentage of stunted children (46.5%), followed by Bihar (42.9%). Maharashtra has the highest rate of wasted children (weight for height) at 25.6%, followed by Gujarat (25.1%). Jharkhand has the highest percentage of women with a BMI below normal (26%) aged 15 to 49 years (BMI).
- India currently has the world’s highest number of undernourished people, estimated at 195 million.
- Nearly 47 million Indian children, or four out of every ten, do not reach their full human potential due to chronic malnutrition or stunting.
- In comparison to the Asia average of 22.7% and 9.4%, 9% of children under the age of five are stunted and 20.8% are wasted.
- The prevalence of overweight and obesity continues to rise, affecting nearly one-fifth of adults (21.6% of women and 17.8% of men).
- Inequities in food and health systems exacerbate nutritional outcomes inequalities, which can lead to even more inequity, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
- Causes of Hunger and Malnutrition in India
- Poverty: Poverty restricts food options and has been linked to hunger-related deaths.
If the persistently high prices of food items and regional disparities in development, particularly backwardness in hilly and tribal areas, are also considered, the percentage of people in India who cannot afford balanced nutrition will be much higher.
- Inadequate access to safe drinking water: In many parts of rural India and urban slums/shanties, safe drinking water is still a luxury. Waterborne diseases are caused by contaminated water, and children are more vulnerable than adults.
- Agriculture issues: The shift from multi to mono cropping systems reduces the diversity of agricultural products.
- A preference for cash crops and a shift in eating habits result in malnutrition, undernutrition, and even micronutrient deficiencies.
- Local cuisine, such as millets, is not consumed, resulting in nutrient deficiencies and anaemia.
- Food waste: Food waste is a new issue that is undermining efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. The FAO estimates that the global volume of food waste is 6 billion tonnes of primary product equivalents.
- Inadequate health care: The relationship between poverty and access to health care can be seen as part of a larger cycle in which poverty leads to illness and illness leads to poverty.
- Inadequate education and training: Children in developing countries do not have access to basic education due to inequalities in sex, health, and cultural identity. According to reports, illiteracy and a lack of education are common causes of poverty and, as a result, hunger.
- The impact of Covid-19: The momentum established by the entire nutrition movement was disrupted when Covid lockdowns resulted in the closure of schools, Anganwadi centres, and Nutritional Rehabilitation Centers.
- In addition, frontline workers had to prioritise Covid-related work over their daily duties, which included identifying, referring, and monitoring children with severe acute malnutrition and moderate acute malnutrition, among other nutrition-strengthening activities.
- States attempted to cope to the best of their abilities by substituting dry rations or cash transfers for hot-cooked meals.
- Furthermore, indirect effects of the pandemic, such as disruption in food systems, dried-up income sources, job losses, and subsequent financial hardships, may have reduced access to nutrient-rich food among economically vulnerable people.
Measures are required to combat childhood malnutrition.
- Agriculture-Nutrition linkage schemes have the potential to have a greater impact in combating malnutrition and thus deserve more attention.
- Recognizing the significance of this connection, the Ministry of Women and Child Development launched the Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh in 2019.
- There is a need to promote programmes that link nutrition and agriculture in rural areas. However, implementation is still crucial.
- Early fund disbursement: The government must ensure early fund disbursement and optimal utilisation of funds in nutrition-related schemes.
- Underutilization of Resources: It has been repeatedly stated that spending on many nutrition-based programmes is significantly less than what was allocated to them. As a result, the emphasis must be on implementation.
- Interaction with Other Schemes: Nutrition is about more than just food; it is also about economics, health, water, sanitation, gender perspectives, and social norms. As a result, proper implementation of other programmes can also contribute to improved nutrition.
- The convergence of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jal Jeevan Mission, and nutrition-related schemes will result in holistic changes to India’s nutrition scenario.
- Mid-Day Meal Scheme: The Mid-Day Meal Scheme aims to improve schoolchildren’s nutrition by providing a balanced diet in schools.
- Including milk and eggs in each state’s menu, as well as preparing a menu based on climatic conditions, local foods, and so on, can aid in providing proper nutrition to children in various states.
Welfare measures must continue to reach the most vulnerable people, with children and mothers at the forefront of efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition. In order to achieve zero hunger, agriculture and food systems must become more efficient, sustainable, climate-smart, and nutrition-sensitive. To achieve the zero-hunger goal, it is critical to consider the future of food production. Human resource capacity building is critical, as is access to education and health services, as well as empowering the poor through collaboration.