India’s nutrition scenario not better than other south Asian counties

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The scenario of nutrition in India is still “not better” than many countries in south Asia though severe forms of malnutrition in the country have come down significantly, a senior nutritional pathologist has said.

“Severe forms of malnutrition has come down significantly except in some pockets of India. Stunting and wasting have shown a downward trend but is still not better than many countries in our region leave alone the world,” former director of the National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research Dr B Sesikeran told PTI from Hyderabad.

“Severe forms of micro nutrient deficiency like Vitamin A deficiency, Iodine deficiency have significantly decreased though Iron deficiency and now Folic Acid, B12 and Vitamin D deficiencies still exist. Low birth weight incidence has come down significantly but in some southern states while some northern states still have a high incidence,” Sesikeran elaborated.

The statement comes in the backdrop of the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying, in a recent report, that 2.5 million children in India die every single year due to malnutrition. It also stated that China has only seven per cent of its children under five years underweight, India has this number alarmingly high at 42.5 per cent.

The progress in reducing malnutrition has been painfully slow; the rate of reduction in malnutrition is less than two per cent per annum, the WHO has also stated.

Aimed to create awareness on the importance of nutrition for health, the country, like every year, is celebrating National Nutrition week from 1 to 7 September.

Based on under five mortality in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar and Gujarat malnutrition is still an issue, the nutritional pathologist said.

When pointed out that results from National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 in 15 states and union territories indicate that fewer children were dying in infancy and early childhood, Dr Sesikeran said, “We are worse than Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in our region and better than Pakistan and Nepal – if that is a consolation.

“The IMR in MP, UP and Odisha are over 60. Compared to earlier years, yes we are relatively better but not good enough.”

According to Dr Sesikeran, though the Centre was doing “enough” in terms of investment but in terms of delivery there has not been “much happening”.

In fact, the policies taken up by the Central government to tackle malnutrition in the country, Dr Sesikeran said would be “enough only if they are properly executed, monitored and owned by the MPs, MLAs, district and village-level administrators”.

“Investment must be made for manpower to monitor and make people accountable as well as improve the Anganwadi work force or motivate them to show results. Very often the data generated itself is unreliable,” Dr Sesikeran said.

Talking about overweight or obesity, which, besides, malnutrition has become another challenge, the nutritional pathologist said, “The fact that the under nourished and low birth weight individuals if they become less active and eat the wrong kind of foods in adolescence and adult life are prone to non-communicable diseases.

“Besides, the rapid urbanisation and the imbalance of physical activity and energy intakes have all fuelled this spurt in NCD is responsible for this epidemic.”

According to the nutritional pathologist, the delivery systems for nutrition security should be improved to address the issue.

“Target the adolescent girls, educate people and fortify foods with micro nutrients to meet their daily needs.

Regulation of high energy, high fat, high sugar and high salt foods both in organised and unorganised sectors, provide easy to comprehend food labelling etc could be some of the initiatives. And in addition, increase the avenues for physical activity in schools, colleges, public places, offices,” Sesikeran prescribed.

Stating that though behavioural and lifestyle changes were basically the responsibility of the individuals the governments and legislation should facilitate and motivate the public to willingly comply and for this there should be an enabling environment.

“We need considerably more investment into peoples health and nutrition. What is being done is not enough when you compare with other nations who have overcome these problems,” he opined.

(With PTI inputs)

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