We are a nation of indomitable spirit and unmatchable potential to show excellence in every field. However, to keep India striding fast on its development trajectory, we need the people of the country—its human capital—to be stronger and healthier. And nutrition is a key determinant of this. We must ensure that our people, particularly the youngsters, are well-nourished. It is worrying that 38.4 per cent of children below the age of five are stunted, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4). Childhood wasting has increased over the past 10 years (NFHS-3 and 4) from 19.8 to 21 per cent. Rising moderate acute and severe acute malnutrition remain critical concerns. Moreover, at least 20.7 per cent of women and 18.6 per cent of men are obese and overweight (NFHS-4). Hunger and obesity are the double burden of malnutrition.
Our top priority should be the empowerment of the current and future generations, which is crucial for inclusive and sustainable development. Water scarcity, drought, floods and climate vulnerability are affecting food production, threatening our current and future generations as nutrition is essential for a healthy immune system and higher-order cognitive ability.
As the Indian diet systems, with their diversity, promote good nutrition and are believed to be self-sustaining, we must promote our traditional food and feeding practices. Many Indian states have done exemplary work in nutrition. Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Mizoram, Gujarat, Odisha, Delhi and Assam have shown reduced stunting, while Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar, Jharkhand and Kerala have been successful in reduction of wasting. Sikkim, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand have been able to reduce the incidence of anaemia. We should celebrate our success and take pride in scaling it up. These achievements can inspire others to replicate and take forward the initiatives. And as our programmes and policies should be evidence-based, our research and academic institutions should carry out more research on nutrition.
In nutrition planning, we must involve the ministries of agriculture, animal husbandry, health and family welfare, and food and civil supplies. Overlaying nutrition maps with agricultural maps can help us know what produce would be able to achieve optimal nutrition and the seed kits we should recommend.
As adolescent girls are the second window of opportunity in addressing malnutrition, with the first 1,000 days of life being the first window, preventing early marriage of girls, addressing their dropout rate from schools, delaying first pregnancy and adequate spacing between births would greatly contribute to better nutrition. Initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth prevents neonatal morbidity and helps build continued immunity after placental separation. In India, only 41 per cent of the mothers are able to start breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth. We must promote breastfeeding to ensure optimal nutrition and reduce the risk of disease among infants. We must also ensure that the Integrated Child Development Services scheme serves proper complementary food to children below two years, and supplementary food to pregnant and lactating women. Anganwadi centres should be the points of convergence for nutrition, health and food security services.
Micronutrient malnutrition—vitamin and mineral deficiency—results in poor cognitive and physical development, and must be addressed through supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversity. Dietary diversification needs to be ensured with increased consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruits, besides lentils and other protein-rich food items. We must promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture, dry land agriculture and naturally bio-fortified crops like minor millets, amla and drumstick. It is time to focus on ‘precision agriculture’ using Artificial Intelligence for food, nutrition and water security. There is also a need to leverage the human capital potential, including the 5.5 million self-help groups, comprising 60 million women members, and the 13.63 lakh Aanganwadi centres. Grassroot workers must be trained and empowered with adequate budget. A nutrition revolution can be brought about by creating village-level women nutrition-warriors or change-leaders.
The Pradhan Mantri POSHAN Abhiyaan—the scheme for holistic nourishment that aims to benefit 100 million people in three phases from 2017-18 to 2019-20, reducing stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and low birth weight—can be the guiding light for all the nutrition-related interventions. It needs to be implemented in a campaign mode with greater involvement of panchayats, civil society organisations and people’s networks. There should be a national movement on the lines of Swachh Bharat and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyaan to eliminate the scourge of malnutrition and other nutrition-related problems. Good nutrition is not a choice anymore; it is a prerequisite for New India’s bright future. Jai Hind!