Malnutrition Among Women

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    Syllabus : GS 2/Issues related to poverty and hunger 

    In Context 

    • Uttar Pradesh is a remarkable example of the importance of women’s empowerment in tackling malnutrition by supporting community-based micro enterprises led by self-help groups.

    About Malnutrition 

    • Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.
    •  The double burden of malnutrition consists of both undernutrition and overweight and obesity, as well as diet-related noncommunicable diseases. 

    Factors that perpetuate malnutrition in women

    • Malnutrition persists due to depressed economic conditions in large parts of the country, the poor state of agriculture in India, persistent levels of unsafe sanitation practices, etc.
    • Early marriage, lack of education and poverty are some of the challenges that impact the health of women and lead to malnutrition. 
    • Economic factors include the challenges women face in terms of access to food.
      • Despite being primary caregivers, women often lack financial independence or an equal say in spending decisions
    • Cultural factors include gender norms that result in low intake of nutritious food by women. 
    • Add to this a patriarchal society that results in the unfair distribution of food, leading to women eating last, and the least.
    • The pandemic has led to an increase in the amount of unpaid work in the form of childcare and domestic chores, which have resulted in women neglecting self-care.

    Impacts 

    • Malnutrition affects productivity and perpetuates intergenerational inequity. 
    • Inadequate nutrition during girls’ and women’s lives can lead to weakened immunity, poor cognitive development, and an increased risk of life-threatening complications – including during pregnancy and childbirth – with dangerous and irreversible consequences for their children’s survival, growth, learning, and future earning capacity.
    •  Undernourished children are at risk of under-performing in studies and have limited job prospects.
    •  This vicious cycle restrains the development of the country, whose workforce, affected mentally and physically, has reduced work capacity.
    Uttar Pradesh model to tackle malnutrition
    – In 2020, the Department of Women and Child Development and the Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission collaborated to set up a decentralised production of take home rations by women’s enterprises.
    – These enterprises produce fortified and nutritious foods for pregnant/breastfeeding mothers and children, provided as take home ration through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme.
    – The feasibility of this model was demonstrated by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) by using two pilot plants in Unnao and Fatehpur in 2021.
    – This unique gender-transformative approach provides livelihood opportunities to local women, empowering them economically. 
    – The Department of Women and Child Development has also used the opportunity to re-formulate the take home ration — it is nutritious with the inclusion of high-quality milk powder, oil, vitamins and minerals, which can help to support the health and well-being of children and prevent malnutrition. 

    Steps of the government 

    • Government has accorded high priority to the issue of malnutrition and is implementing several schemes like Anganwadi Services, Scheme for Adolescent Girls and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) under the Umbrella Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme as direct targeted interventions to address the problem of malnutrition in the country.
    •  POSHAN Abhiyaan launched in  2018, aims to achieve improvement in nutritional status of Adolescent Girls, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers in a time bound manner by adopting a synergised and result oriented approach.

    Suggestions and Way Forward 

    • It is imperative that “good nutrition” becomes everyone’s mantra if we are serious about addressing the malnutrition challenge. 
    • Research institutions and the agriculture extension system have to work together for nutrition-sensitive agri-food systems.
    • Awareness is also needed regarding the nutrient content in ultra-processed foods and their connection to obesity.
      • Digital technology and media, both print and electronic, can play a big role in all this.
    • Investment in nutrition is crucial to achieving all the sustainable development goals (SDG), especially SDG 3, that aims to ensure healthy lives and well-being to achieve the target of reducing neonatal and child mortality and maternal mortality.
    • Preventing early marriage, teen pregnancies and improving women’s nutritional status can go a long way in breaking the inter-generational cycle of under-nutrition. 
    • Women require more support from the government in the form of flexible working hours and crèches for working mothers. 
    • They also need women-oriented health services such as antenatal health care.
    • Enhancing women’s membership in credit and service cooperatives could promote more financial independence for women in the rural sector 
    •  There is a need to ensure girls complete high school education, women are economically empowered and are equipped to take decisions for self and family care.
    Mains Practise  Question 
    [Q] Malnutrition among women in India is a complex problem that requires a systemic overhaul of the public administration and service delivery systems, as well as engagement from the community.Discuss