Use the latest research to combat child under-nutrition

Synopsis: Better child health policies are required to improve the malnutrition status of children.

Introduction

Children are future assets for any nation. Thus, it is important to take care of their development. In India, where several children are malnourished, it is important to study the research carefully and then frame the policies according to that.

How has the definition of nutrition changed over the years?

Since the 1940s: Micronutrient deficiency was considered the primary cause of childhood undernutrition.

Till the mid-1950s: Caloric deficiency was considered as a primary cause of child under-nutrition.

During the 1970s: Research until the 1950s concentrated on various vitamin deficiencies. In the mid-1970s, the research also included protein deficiency.  From the late 1970s, it was discovered that child malnutrition is more than caloric and micronutrient deficiency, so it adopted multi-sectoral nutritional planning.

In 1984: Freedom from Hunger and malnutrition was recognized as basic human rights. This recognition led to the ratification of a set of goals for UN countries.

1992: UN developed a conceptual framework for child malnutrition. This was to understand the multi-sectoral factors that affect child health beyond calorific and micronutrient deficiencies.

This framework acknowledged that inadequate dietary intake and diseases are the immediate causes of child malnutrition. There are another set of causes referred to as Basic Causes. It includes basic socioeconomic characteristics like wealth, religious practices and resources available to children.

2010: A paediatrics journal highlights the importance of 1st 1000 days of child health. It showed that the phenomenon of growth faltering (Child grow slower than prescribed WHO standard) is more in starting first two years of child life. This led to irreversible cognitive and physical damages and also passed on to the next generations also.

Also, National Family Health survey 4 found that nearly 40% of Indian children were stunted in 2015-16, the highest in the world. This led to the start of India’s Poshan Abhiyan, launched in 2018, with an aim of eradicating malnutrition by 2022.

What are Poshan Abhiyan and the problems associated with it?
Read here: Poshan Abhiyan and challenges associated
What needs to be done?

A study in Lancet predicted that a decline of 10-20% in coverage of essential and maternal child health interventions and a 10% increase in wasting of children over 6 months would lead to an additional 250,000 child and 12k maternal deaths. So, it is time that India should update its health policies with up-to-date research.

Source: This post is based on the article “Use the latest research to combat child under-nutrition” published in LiveMint on 7th October 2021.

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