Undernutrition situation in India
Undernutrition rates are not only high, but have also been persistent over the years. In the last eight years, rates have only come down by 1% according to the government’s data (NFHS-3, 2005-06). In 2010, the Global Hunger Index placed India in the “alarming category” (von Grebmer et al., 2010). Preventing undernutrition, especially during the 1000 day period – conception to two years of age – has emerged as one of the most critical challenges to India’s development planners in recent times (Menon & Aguayo, 2011).
1000 days crucial in India
Essential nutrition interventions in India do not cover half of the group they are intended for (Menon & Aguayo, 2011). Undernutrition amongst women is one of the primary causes of low birth-weight babies and poor growth. Low birth-weight is a significant contributor to infant mortality. Moreover, low birth-weight babies who survive are likely to suffer growth retardation and illness throughout their childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Growth-retarded adult women are likely to carry on the vicious cycle of malnutrition by giving birth to low birth-weight babies.
About a third of newborns in India are born with low birth weight, and 52% of women and 74% of children are anemic. Other major nutritional deficiencies of public health importance in the country are vitamin A deficiency and iodine deficiency. According to National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, over half Indian children have subclinical or biochemical deficiencies of Vitamin A, B, Folate and vitamin C (Upadhyay, 2011).
There are opportunities emerging in the nutrition policy space with the drafting of the National Food Security Bill. Efforts are being made to ensure the Bill incorporates nutrition interventions in the first 1000 days since conception. The other major opportunity lies in the restructuring of the ICDS programme. In this there are efforts to increase the focus on service delivery in the first 1000 days improve capacity within the programme. This process is ongoing and is an important consideration for the 12th five year plan of the Planning Commission.
There is also potential to scale up direct and indirect inputs for nutrition through the many implementation platforms that already exist in India. These include the Mid-day Meal, income enhancing platforms and others. There is also an opportunity to improve capacity linked to these implementation platforms by improving technical knowledge, management skills of frontline workers and community resource persons. There is potential for strong partnerships with technical and management resource institutions. This is coupled with creative approaches for quality training, guidance, support, recognition and motivation to frontline workers and community resource persons.
Read the India Situation Analysis (PDF) prepared for Transform Nutrition.