The Solid Body, Smart Mind Mantra Of POSHAN Abhiyaan Will Remain A Pipe-Dream Unless Tackled On War-footing

NITI Aayog and UNICEF India Explain Why

Charupadma Pati | Nov 03, 2019

Malnutrition is a grave concern for India, hampering all-round growth of the nation. Many are deprived of access to healthy food and are thus malnourished, including the affluent classes. Adolescent malnourishment is on a rampant rise and needs to be addressed on war-footing. About half the adolescent population in India, or 63 million girls and 81 million boys between age 10 and 19 years, are either short, thin, overweight or obese.

These are the findings of a new report released on October 31 at a high-level meeting of the apex policy think-tank of India, NITI Aayog, and the world's leading international agency for children, UNICEF India.

According to the report, over 80 per cent adolescents suffer from “hidden hunger,” or deficiency of one or more micronutrients—such as iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

The report, “Adolescents, Diets and Nutrition: Growing Well in a Changing World,” is based on the recently released Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS), conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in collaboration with the UNICEF, to look into the problem of malnutrition in each and every part of India, while proposing solutions to tackle it.

The CNNS data provides important insights into all types macronutrient and micronutrient malnutrition, dietary habits of the adolescents, their life skill behaviours, throughout adolescence for both boys and girls. The report also talks about the accessibility of the adolescents to services which are their basic necessities such as school, health and nutrition. It reveals that almost all adolescents in India have unhealthy or poor diets. This is the main cause for all forms of malnutrition.

Key Findings

The report has revealed shocking facts regarding the nutritional status of the youths of the country. Check out:

In a double whammy, with rising incomes, there has been a simultaneous increase in the consumption of fried foods, aerated drinks, junk foods and sweets. This has put adolescents in every state of India at a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Tackling The Problem

For the first time, the CNNS data has provided evidence that emphasises the necessity of implementing high-impact interventions in adolescent nutrition, with full coverage, continuity, intensity and quality. Some key solutions:

•It is important to focus on adolescent girls before they become mothers. It is a critical step to break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition that has been affecting India for long. One of the major goals of POSHAN Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission) is to reduce anaemia among adolescent girls by three per cent a year. To achieve the target, it is essential to ensure that community and school-based interventions reach out to all those who need them.

•CNNS provides important programme insights which are based on strengthening school-based services. Schools are a cross-sectoral platform to address good nutrition—diets, services and behaviours. This is especially important for the early adolescent age-range (10-14 years), as 85 per cent of this age-group is enrolled in schools.

•According to the report, nearly 25 per cent of the adolescent boys and girls do not receive any of the essential school-based government services such as mid-day meals, biannual health
check-ups, biannual deworming and weekly iron folic acid supplementation. It is mandatory to address this issue as this could affect the health of the young adults.

•The report clearly highlights the importance of serving nutritious meals and snacks at home. Campaigns that promote healthy food choices should primarily focus on promoting a variety of food items in appropriate proportions at home.

• Risks for non-communicable diseases are established in childhood and adolescence. For example, the risk of contracting serious diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and several
cardiovascular diseases is increasing among adolescents in India. Therefore, it is necessary to pay extra attention to those in the 10-19 age bracket and provide them proper nutrition, as
nutritional status during this period determines the rest of their life.

•All girls and boys are unable to meet the recommended 60 minutes a day outdoor sports and exercise time. It has been found that on an average, girls in late adolescence spend only 10 minutes per day on such activities. Boys do relatively better, spending 40 to 50 minutes to exercise per day.

•The report recommends that adolescents themselves be supported as mobilisers and co-implementers at schools and other platforms they access, to spread the right nutrition messages to aid India’s Jan Andolan movement to end malnutrition.

POSHAN Abhiyaan is now in its second year, and this is the right time to strengthen nutrition interventions for “would be mothers and fathers” of the nation, to prevent the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.

This is the first-ever national analysis of adolescent diet and nutrition in India.