Diversifying plates for girls

News: The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 data (2019-20) has shown an increase in anaemia among adolescent girls by 5% when compared to National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4.

About nutrition requirement

In the adolescence phase of life, both boys and girls demand a lot of nutrition intake. As girls face more physiological demands, thus they require a higher intake of macro and micro nutrients. Therefore, Adolescent girls are 40% and boys are 18% prone to anaemia.

The adolescent’s nutritional status is related to the burden of multiple micronutrient deficiencies. Currently, 80% of adolescents suffer ‘hidden hunger’ due to micro nutrient deficiencies.

Over 10% of adolescents are overweight in 12 States of India

What are the causes of low nutrition?

As per the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2019, the consumption of diverse food groups among adolescents was low even before the pandemic.

The COVID-19 has further worsened dietary diversity, especially of women, adolescents and children. For example, as per a study, women’s dietary diversity in India declined by 42% during COVID-19 lockdowns as they consumed fewer fruits, vegetables, and eggs.

The lockdowns have led to the loss of mid-day meals, interruptions in Weekly Iron Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) and nutrition education in schools for adolescent girls. The out-of-school adolescent girls were even more vulnerable to poor nutrition outcomes.

Way Forward

During adolescence, dietary diversity can be promoted, when dietary habits are in the formative stage. The behaviour imbibed during adolescence has a higher chance of being continued in adult life. It can correct nutritional deficiencies and replenish the body with much-needed nutrients, especially for girls.

Appropriate nutrition should be ensured to the adolescent girls. This can be done in following ways:

First, the WIFS services should be continued, the government’s health and nutrition policies should promote diverse diets (like inclusion of millets) and physical activities. This can be done with better school ecosystem (like Nutri-Smart schools having kitchen gardens in schools); and strengthen nutrition counselling through community-based events and Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Days.

Second, apart from schools, young girls having adequate information and knowledge about appropriate diets can act as change agents for their families, community, and peer groups.

Third, in addition, increasing the legal age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years was a good step. Further, it should be ensured that girls remain in school or formal education. This will provide opportunities to girls to improve their nutritional and health outcomes.

Fourth, to address hidden hunger, we need to strengthen our policy initiatives to address deficiencies of not just iron and folic acid, but also vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc.

Fifth, POSHAN 2.0 Mission strongly integrates the aspect of under-nutrition and anaemia among women, girls, and children. In addition, non-communicable diseases and obesity among adolescents should also be included.

Source: The post is based on an article “Diversifying plates for girls” published in the “The Hindu” on 26th May 2022.

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