To tackle nutrition challenges, we must also address sanitation issues

Synopsis: Understand how the interplay of food and hygiene are important for complete nutrition.


Of all the problems confronting the youth, nutritional insecurity is the worst. It has the power to cripple the future of an entire generation. Numerous reports have pointed to the dismal state of nutritional status of the children in India.

What are the findings of national/International Organisations?

UNICEF Report: It indicated that nearly 12 lakh children could die in low and middle-income countries in the next six months due to a decrease in routine health services and an increase in wasting. About three lakh such children would be from India.

National Food Health survey (NFHS 5): It indicated that ever since the onset of the pandemic, acute undernourishment in children below the age of five has worsened, with one in every three children below the age of five suffering from chronic malnourishment.

According to the latest data, 37.9% of children under five are stunted, and 20.8% are wasted — a form of malnutrition in which children are too thin for their height. This is much higher than in other developing countries where, on average, 25% of children suffer from stunting and 8.9% are wasted.

NFHS 4:  It said that approximately 9 percent of children under five years of age in India experience diarrheal disease.

World Health Organisation (WHO): It said that 50% of all mal- and under-nutrition can be traced to diarrhoea and intestinal worm infections, which are a direct result of poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). WHO has estimated that access to proper water, hygiene and sanitation can prevent the deaths of at least 8,60,000 children a year caused by undernutrition.

Studies about linkage of malnutrition with hygiene

WASH and nutrition must be addressed together through a lens of holistic, sustainable community engagement to enable long-term impact. This is because the linkage between nutrition and hygiene is now well established.

It was first highlighted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Under this, the states were urged to ensure “adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water” to combat disease and malnutrition.

Another research in 2015 (Jean H. Humphrey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health): Study highlighted that poor hygiene and sanitation in developing countries leads to a sub-clinical condition called “environmental enteropathy” in children. It causes nutritional malabsorption and is the source of a variety of problems, including diarrhoea, retarded growth and stunting.

What should be the Indian strategy to counter diarrhoea and malnutrition?

In the Indian scenario, a simultaneous approach to nutrition and WASH should be adopted. It will not only aid India’s fight against malnutrition but also bolster Covid resilience amongst the most vulnerable sections of society.

A coordinated, multi-sectoral approach amongst the health, water, sanitation, and hygiene bodies, along with strong community engagement can help India achieve the goal of a safe and healthy population.

Source: This post is based on the article “To tackle nutrition challenges, we must also address sanitation issues” published in the Indian Express on 6th September 2021.

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