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NUTRITION

India 97th on Global Hunger Index, home to 184 million undernourished
Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
On the Global Hunger Index 2016, India - home to 184 million undernourished people (many of them children) - ranks 97th out of the 118 nations with widespread hunger levels, faring worse in comparison to its neighbours, China (29), Nepal (72), Myanmar (75), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (90).

A recent Bengaluru-based based study conducted amongst 634 school-going children, drawn equally from the various socio-economic classes, found that up to 95 per cent could be at risk of inadequate micronutrient intake, with almost 70 per cent at risk of having insufficient intake of four or more micronutrients.

The intake of nutrients that were most inadequate in the study in the southern Indian city was Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin B12 and iron, leaving children susceptible to stunting, weakened immune systems, impaired cognitive function, anaemia, low energy levels and other devastating effects of hidden hunger.

Presumably, what constitutes a balanced diet for a mother is the home-cooked healthy food she puts on her child’s plate. The lesser-known fact is that a balanced diet is the amount of intake of crucial vitamins and minerals which are needed for the healthy growth of a child.

Unfortunately, parents often are not aware of the symptoms of hidden hunger. A paediatric study in Mumbai of 111 urban affluent mothers found that more than half were unable to tell if their children were under or overweight, and attributed this to Indian mothers’ general perception of a chubby baby as healthy.

Micronutrient deficiency, also known as hidden hunger, is the key underlining issue and can be explained as an inadequate intake of crucial vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, Vitamin A and folate, which are needed for the healthy mental and physical growth of children.

While the government is taking steps through its initiatives, parents can champion this cause and make an immediate difference. The solution can be as simple as helping parents to improve shopping habits at the neighbourhood grocery store or kirana.

Feeding children, a diverse diet including a variety of cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables and animal-source foods is one of the most effective ways to sustainably prevent micronutrient deficiency.

Parents can also look out for fortified foods and drinks, which have been consistently ranked as the top investments to make in a child’s development.

A study by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, concluded that the supplementation of the daily diet with a beverage fortified with a range of micronutrients significantly improved physical growth, attention and concentration scores among urban schoolchildren.

Considering how important better nourished children are to maximising India’s developmental potential, working with parents for better childhood nutrition is increasingly becoming an imperative and not just an option.

Empowering ordinary parents to lead the charge to spread awareness and act can only hasten efforts to make hidden hunger a thing of the past.
 
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