Malnutrition in India: Report reveals a financial as well as humanitarian crisis

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Women and children make up the majority of malnourished individuals in India. ©Getty Images
Women and children make up the majority of malnourished individuals in India. ©Getty Images

Related tags Nutrition

India's forthcoming union budget needs to better address the persistent problem of malnutrition in India, with an Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) report claiming it causes the country to lose at least 4% of GDP.

Furthermore, women and children make up the majority of malnourished individuals in India, leading the authors to write that they "deserve a better deal in expenditure outlay"​.

Worrying statistics

In fact, the country is home to half the world's under-nourished children​, and according to the report, "only about 10% of the country's total children…are receiving (an) adequate diet"​.

Citing the National Family Health Survey – 4, the report's authors said nearly 60% of children aged six months to five years old are anaemic.

They added that the same was true for approximately 55% of non-pregnant women and 58% of pregnant women aged 15 to 49, despite flagship programmes having been launched by the country's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to tackle this issue.

Diversity and fortification needed

ASSOCHAM secretary-general DS Rawat said it was necessary for the government to implement policies that "focus on removing health and social inequities"​, adding that "programmes and policies that aim to address the nutrition burden present a double-win situation"​.

As micronutrient deficiency is a major component of India's malnutrition problem, the report said it was "imperative to focus on production diversity as well as food fortification at a macro level"​.

It continued: "For instance, millets are three to five times more nutritious than rice and wheat in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins.

"They are cost-effective crops as well, yet considered poor people's crops while rice and wheat are preferred over them."

"Millets are rich in vitamin B, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and are gluten-free. They are suitable for people with gluten allergies or those with high blood sugar levels."

Slow progress

Indeed, malnutrition has been a longstanding problem for India. Vitamin D and calcium deficiency​ is prevalent across all age groups, and malnutrition is particularly severe in rural India.

Because of this, children in such areas have experienced sub-optimal mental development​, and according to an earlier ASSOCHAM study, 38% of them are underweight​.

Food fortification has been implemented as a solution, but has been slow to take effect​, due in part to company concerns over possible regulatory changes and the differences in laws among states.

More recently, we reported that many Indian companies had been ignoring reminders​ from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to fortify their milk and edible oils.

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