Out of 673 million undernourished people in the world, 189.2 million were registered in India (2017-19): Reports
Poshan / Nutrition is the process of taking and absorbing nutrients from food. It has suddenly taken a center stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing September 2020 as third Rashtriya PoshanMaah (National nutrition month). The initiative strives to promote identification of Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) children and encouraging home gardens as part of the defined theme. Prior to this, Nutrition week was observed throughout the first week of September. Looking at the grave realities of malnutrition in India and the depiction of the data, it was imperative to take steps beyond just observing a week of nutrition.
Investing in nutrition enables growth, development, and greater prosperity of the nation. Nutrition Month and its theme is a significant step in the same direction. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, this year, it is largely celebrated online. There are virtual meetings hosted with nutrition experts, government and stakeholders are taking over social media to encourage home gardens and to discuss the importance of making informed food choices. It is evident that with public participation in the Nutrition month, taking into account the past two years, nutrition awareness is turning into a mass movement.
As India aims to attend a rank among the developed countries, the first step in the direction is to address the grass root problem of malnutrition. Data suggests the problem is grave. Out of 673 million undernourished people in the world, 189.2 million were in India in 2017-19, according to a combined report by FAO, IFAD, WHO, UNICEF and WFP titled 'The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World'. The problem is more severe among children under the age of 5 years. As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, the proportion of underweight children was 35.8% and stunted children were 38.4%. India, thus, ranks poorly in terms of its food and nutrition security indicators even after over seven decades of Independence.
Eradicating undernutrition will transform people’s health and thereby the nation’s health. This is the aim of Nutrition Month. As PM Modi rightly highlighted in his address “Nation and nutrition are inextricably linked”.To widen the impact, not just the government, but educational institutions, NGOs, communities, dieticians and nutritionists also actively participate in Nutrition Month. They use this month to raise awareness, promote initiatives for fighting malnutrition. A larger impact is made with small steps after all!
NGOs track vulnerable and target groups with malnourishment and provide them with food rich in protein and calories. Nutritionists and dieticians share low-cost, nutrient-dense recipes for fighting malnutrition. They host seminars, health camps and competitions to encourage conscious eating and physical activities. The efforts to enhance nutrition in the country are also being taken up at a community level. Each year, when the Nutrition Month is announced, religious and social communities, at different levels start to take up initiatives towards providing nutrition to the underprivileged across India.
At an individual level, home gardens are the most effective way of ensuring the family gets essential macro and micronutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in the development of children and protect the health of adults. Growing and consuming different kinds of vegetables at home can fulfil the basic nutrition requirements without having to step out, it is hence, growing to become a popular trend during the pandemic.
A smaller version of home gardens, called Kitchen gardens are a great fit space-tight urban homes. You can easily grow vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and bitter guard in your kitchen garden. You can also grow chillies, coriander and mint. In fruits, beginners can start by growing raspberries, strawberries that fit in a smaller space and do not need much maintenance.
These gardens are an established tradition in India and they give us direct access to diverse nutritionally-rich vegetables and fruits. Additionally, home-grown vegetables are organic, low cost and can be free from chemicals and pesticides, hence assuring health.Community and individual led initiatives has scaled up the Nutrition Month to have a ripple effect that creates a larger impact. Good nutritious food for one and all is the key agenda and it will revive the numbers to show a positive curve in the times to come.
(The author is a Clinical Nutritionist, Lifestyle Therapist & Founder of NutriAl Online Diet Clinic)