Poor Nutrition: Long-standing Public Health Threat

Addressing the nutrition challenges is an urgent issue to be covered on the government's agenda.

Poor nutrition, which can be referred to as Malnutrition, is a condition that is caused either by not getting enough nutrients or by getting too much of them. 

Although, the last and even this year was intensively focused on managing the pandemic and alleviating its effects, malnutrition, the invisible and silent killer, is still looking for an evidence-based and determined approach in developing countries like India. 

A chronic problem like child malnutrition is a biggest challenge for India. According to the studies, child malnutrition rates in India are still on the list of most alarming issues in the world. About 15 percent of the nation's total disease burden is fueled by child and maternal malnutrition. There is a big loss in terms of incomes as well, up to 4 per cent of GDP and about 8 percent of productivity of India has been lost due to this issue. 

Moreover, demotion of India to 120th rank on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is an added-emergency for the nation in terms of poverty and poverty-induced poor nutrition.  

Addressing the nutrition challenges is an urgent issue to be covered on the government's agenda. Although some impressive moves have been made in this direction in recent years, more speed is expected, in making the policies and most importantly, implementing them, before it's too late. 

Health issues people are experiencing owing to poor nutrition

With the agenda to ‘put people first’, India has launched various schemes including POSHAN Abhiyan, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Mid-day meal scheme, National Health Mission etc. Hence, ‘Zero hunger’ being one of the important SDGs to achieve, the government needs to be more execution and outcome-oriented toward the population who are at risk of malnutrition, mainly, women and children. Following are the health issues affecting the public health owing to poor-nutrition:

Poor nutrition problems in women and children

Poor nutrition poses a variety of threats to women, and hence their babies. It not only lowers women's ability to survive childbirth but also leaves them susceptible to a number of illnesses. Such undernourished women with lowered productivity lose the capacity to generate income and ability to take care of their families. 

Iron deficiency and anemia among women and adolescent girls are some of the life-threatening issues resulting from poor nutrition. 

Iodine deficiency resulting in impaired mental functioning, goiter and hypothyroidism is also one of the serious issues experienced by poorly nourished women and adolescent girls.

Moreover, VAD (Vitamin A Deficiency) remains a significant public health issue for women which results in growth retardation and impaired vision. 

Such issues harm the performance of adolescent girls and women at school and workplace respectively. 

Along with the mother, poor maternal nutrition also affects newborns and children. Undernourished infants weigh extremely low and such infants suffer from developmental problems, cognitive impairment and are more susceptible to illnesses. Such issues also result in early mortality in children. 

Poor nutrition-induced dual-malnutrition- Coexistence of Undernutrition and Overnutrition

The prevalence of underweight population with micronutrient deficiency and over nutritioned obese children and adults is one of the major global public health concerns. 

Although the prevalence of obesity is higher in India’s urban non-slum households, rural and urban slums are also moving slowly towards catching up with their urban counterparts.  

Moreover, one of the most sever issues to tackle in recent scenario is the prevalence of early non-communicable disease like pre-diabetes in children below 19 years. Early life undernutrition/overnutrition resulting in later-life adult diseases (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, cancers, eating disorders, etc.) intensifies the severity of varying nutrition availability.

The inequalities in wealth status and residence are few of the factors fueling this double burden. Such factors are also responsible for the varying maternal and child nutrition in different states of India. The social determinants covering gender, sanitation, education, etc. are few more key drivers of the dual monster of malnutrition. 

Such issues are need to be tackled urgently as they affect the overall productivity of the nation. 

Suggestions for strengthening the ‘Zero Hunger’ SDG performance

SDGs being the universal call of action to ensure that people can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030, building overall health of the population should be prioritized and following could be the steps which can help in achieving the same-

Empowering women's education could be one of the revolutionary steps toward fighting the poor nutrition induced problems. Increasing awareness about nutrients-rich meal, access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation can help revamping the situation significantly.

Dual-interventions towards all forms of malnutrition ranging from stunting and underweight to overnutrition problem and food related non-communicable diseases like diabetes are necessary.

A shift to nutritious food like pulses, fruits and vegetables, etc is required. Allocating the part of food subsidy to nutritious food other than cereals could have a positive impact on the overall health of the nation.

An excellent alternative option to derive the maximum nutrition from a day-to-day cereal-based diet could be bio-fortification of cereals. The government can make some moves in this direction as this can be a much better, accessible and yet affordable option. 

An outcome-oriented focus on agriculture, sanitation and women’s education is an imperative approach to make toward minimizing all forms of Malnutrition in the country. Although India is making noticeable progress in reducing the hidden hunger, we are still far behind in race as compared to China and other countries. 

Having a nutritious meal is a right of every individual living in the country, administrative bodies should ensure that this right is equally distributed amongst the poor and the rich.


Around The World