Aggravation of undernutrition in India : Inter-ministerial committee

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    In Context 

    Recently ,Inter-ministerial committee has observed that Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have “aggravated the silent crisis” of undernutrition in India

    About the committee 

    • The inter-ministerial committee includes officials from the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Ministry of Education, as well as scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

    Major Issues Highlighted 

    • Though the NFSA has been in place since 2013, the desired outcomes have not yet been achieved. 
    • The NFHS-5 survey results show a worrying trend in increase in malnutrition and anaemia in many states .
      • It has documented a rise in the “rates of child undernutrition, stunting and wasting in most of the states”, along with an increase in prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women and those of reproductive age. 
    • Persistent levels of undernutrition despite rapid economic growth remains the single biggest public health problem in India.
    • The pandemic is only likely to aggravate the silent crisis and there is a need for urgent action.”

    Recommendations 

    • It recommending that protein-rich food items like eggs, nuts and legumes, as well as micronutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, folate and vitamin A be legally mandated in meals given through food safety programmes in schools and anganwadis by revising Schedule II of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
      • Currently, eggs are served in mid-day meals in 13 states and three UTs as part of “additional food items.
        • The inclusion of eggs in food safety nets have been opposed by many religious groups as well as chief ministers .
      • Committee recommended that Those who do not consume eggs may be provided double the proposed quantity of nuts and seeds.
    • The committee has suggested that “urgent action” is needed to address the crisis, citing the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), 
    • It recommended new standards of kilocalories and protein per meal, along with fixing proposed intake of micronutrients for all categories of beneficiaries, and the food items required to achieve those standards. While the Integrated Child Development Services scheme (ICDS) covers children aged six months to six years and pregnant/lactating mothers, students in lower primary classes, upper primary classes in government and government-aided schools are beneficiaries of the PM Poshan scheme.

    National Food Security Act

    • It was enacted in July, 2013 which gives legal entitlement to 67% of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas) to receive highly subsidised foodgrains.
    • Under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), foodgrain is sold at highly subsidised prices of Rs. 1/-, Rs. 2/- and Rs. 3/- per kg for nutri-cereals, wheat and rice respectively.
    • Under sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act, the term “eligible households” comprises two categories:
      • Priority households category is entitled for 5 kg per person per month.
      • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families are entitled for 35 kg per family per month.
    • Coverage under the Act is based on the population figures of Census, 2011. 
    • The Act is now being implemented in all 36 States/UTs and covers about 81.35 crore persons.

    Schedule II of the National Food Security Act

    • It lays down nutritional standards for government food safety programmes like mid-day meal, PM Poshan and Integrated Child Development Services scheme. 
      • Currently, it quantifies nutrition per meal in terms of calories and protein only, but the inter-ministerial panel has called for micronutrients to also be taken into account.

     

    Other Government Interventions 

    • Integrated  Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS)
    • Introduction of community-based programmes
    • Matritva Sahyog Yojana
    • Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana
    • PM POSHAN (POshan SHAkti Nirman) Scheme
    • National Food Security Mission
    • National Nutrition Mission

    Future Prospects 

    • The pandemic is only likely to aggravate the silent crisis and there is a need for urgent action.
    • Immediate action is needed to address the crisis that has documented:
      • A rise in the rates of child undernutrition, stunting and wasting in most of the states, 
      • An increase in prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women and those of reproductive age. 
    • There should be a process to monitor and evaluate programmes and address systemic and on the ground challenges. 
    • The country’s response to malnutrition and its growing anaemia burden should be practical and innovative. 

    Source: IE