This article on NFHS-5 results has been developed based on the Indian Express Article under the title ‘Give children weight’ that appeared in the news on 17th December 2020.
Situation of Nutrition in India as per NFHS-5 survey and other measures
- As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 35.7 per cent children below five years were underweight in India compared to Bangladesh (22 per cent) and Nepal (27 per cent). 38.4 per cent were stunted.
- Now as per early estimates of National Family Health Survey 2019-20 (NFHS-5), between 2015-16 and 2019-20, in 7 out of 10 major states for which data has been released, the proportion of underweight children increased.
- Present data estimates stunting in 36 per cent of children and 34 per cent of children are underweight.
- Some improvements have been seen in determinants of malnutrition such as access to sanitation, clean cooking fuels and women’s status
- The Global Hunger Index 2020 report has given India the 94th rank among 107 countries, much behind Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.
- As per a UN-FAO report, 194 million people go hungry every day in India, comprising about 23% of the world’s undernourished population.
What are the implications of NFHS-5 Survey estimates?
- Present data suggest that child nutrition in India has not progressed in last 5 years. Particularly, stagnation of stunting rates is alarming, as Height, unlike weight, cannot be reversed in short period of time and becomes permanent after a certain age.
- Stunting in childhood is associated with serious impairments later in life, including lower school achievements.
- Moreover, present data represent the picture before the advent of COVID pandemic. There is a high possibility that child nutrition has deteriorated as several surveys have pointed out severe food insecurity across India in 2020.
- As per the latest survey by Hunger Watch, 2/3rd of the respondents that are adults from India’s poorest households were eating less nutritious food today than before the lockdown.
- Mid-day meals in schools and anganwadis were discontinued after lockdown and not resumed yet. Some of the states tried to make arrangement like distribution of cash or “take-home rations”, but were not adequate.
- Prolonged closure of anganwadis and schools might have resulted in massive disruption of routine health services — including immunisation.
What are government initiatives for improving nutrition in India?
- The Integrated Child Development Services provides cooked meals and take-home rations to 100 million children under the age of six, as well as to pregnant and lactating mothers.
- The mid-day meal programme in schools takes care of the nutritional requirement of school-going children.
- POSHAN abhiyan: It is India’s flagship programme to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.
What are the criticisms against government policies?
- Central budget for mid-day meals (Rs 11,000 crore) is lower than what it was in 2014-15 (Rs 13,000 crore). Central allocation for ICDS is also lower today than it was six years ago.
- Poshan Abhiyaan, government’s flagship programme for child nutrition, has been allocated a minuscule budget of Rs 3,700 crore.
- In many states, on the one hand, political parties opposedinclusion of eggs in mid-day meals and take-home rations, on another hand, maternity benefit were restricted to one child per family and Rs 5,000 per child against Rs. 6,000 per child under the NFSA 2013.
What should be done?
The present government needs to allocate more resources for improving the nutrition level among children. The budget should have been increased or kept at the same level.
- Revival of present structure: The forthcoming Budget, for 2021-22 should have adequate provision for increasing nutrition level in the country and Mid-day meals in schools and Anganwadi centers must be revived as soon as possible.
- Nutritious products such as eggs with a fruit option or such for vegetarians should be included in mid-day meals and take-home rations for young children and pregnant women.
- Maternity benefits must be extended to all children with an increase in benefits beyond outdated Rs 6,000 per child.
- Upgradation of anganwadis: ICDS programme must be upgraded and the manpower of 14 lakh anganwadis should be utilised in a way to transform anganwadis into vibrant child development centers at the village level as been done in some southern states along with states like Himachal Pradesh and Odisha.
- Inclusion of pulses: World Food Programme (WFP) includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils, and sugar, and salt and according to the Global Pulse Confederation, pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Thus, Pulses should be included in the PDS of India.
- Access to finance and innovations: Inclusive access to finance to strengthen and expand rural supply chains is also crucial. Small landholders need access to financial resources, technology, and innovation to ensure that the produced food reaches from farm to fork.
Present children are the future of our country and a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. As shown in the NFHS-5 survey, more than 1/4th of underweight children may prove to be the biggest obstacle in becoming a $5 trillion economy within a few years. Global economic and military superpower and require urgent attention.