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BW Businessworld

‘Good Nutrition is Good Life’

Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership Award and Chief Advisor – IMPAct4Nutrition, Basanta Kumar Kar answers key questions on how to tackle malnutrition in India. He speaks to Ashish Sinha of BW Businessworld. Edited Excerpts:

Photo Credit :

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How important is good nutritional intake for the average individual? How does good nutrition help reduce India’s double burden on malnutrition? 

Good nutrition is key to good health and very important to lead a good life. It has the power to transform human capital potential, address perpetual social injustice, and supercharge demographic dividend, growth and productivity positively. Safe, healthy, affordable and accessible nutritious diets for all,rich in protein, vitamins and minerals is necessary for growth, healthy immune system, management of infection, psychological stress, body function maintenance and overall well-being. A child’s first 1000 days determine sensory, language and cognitive development. Proper nutrition and feeding in the first 1000days as the first window of opportunity to tackle malnutrition is very crucial. 

Safe and nutritious diets with reduced salt, sugar and fat (including trans-fat) can minimize obesity and overweight problems. Alternatively, it can reduce incidence of the non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. As per WHO these are collectively responsible for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide and the rise of NCDs has been driven by primarily four major risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets. 

Nutrition security is achieved when access to an appropriately nutritious diet is coupled with a sanitary environment as well as adequate health services.  

How big is the problem of malnutrition in India? 

Despite high public investment, India is home to one-third of the world’s stunted children and with rising obesity and overweight, India’s double burden on malnutrition inhibits its aspiration for a developed nation. As per CNNS 2016-18, 35% children under five, 17% children under five, and 33% children under five are stunted, wasted and underweight respectively. Around 53% women of 15-49 years are anaemic (NFHS-IV) and over 60% children of 12-23 months are anaemic (CNNS 2016-18). Also, 20.7% women and 18.6% men are obese and overweight (NFHS-IV), which shows that we have a diluted food system which needs immediate attention. The micronutrient malnutrition such as deficiency of vitamins and minerals like Vitamins A, Vitamin D, B6, B12, C, Zinc etc. contribute to morbidity and impaired immunity, high infection and in some cases mortality. 

What role can IMPAct4Nutrition play in this?

The socially responsible public-private engagement platform IMPAct4Nutrition jointly plat formed by UNICEF, Tata Trusts and Sight and Life is a multi-stakeholder platform in the public space. It is doing good work in bringing together stakeholders, especially socially responsible businesses, for stakeholder and message alignment, and right messaging at the workplace. Through the employee, we can reach out to their families. Through businesses, we can reach out to the entire eco-system of suppliers, customers, workers and all associates. 

In novel pandemic times, we need to fight malnutrition together and for that getting the right nutrition messaging across to everyone and ascertaining stakeholder alignment is a must. 

I understand IMPAct4Nutrition, in consultation with teams from UNICEF and Sight and Life, has come up with detailed guidelines on daily nutrition and diet in publications such as Ten Commandment of Nutrition for You and Your Family, Nourish Notes and other resource packages, which can be accessed at impact4nutrition.in 

How could we improve our diet? 

Nutritional security is realised when a person has access and control over an appropriately nutritious diet that is coupled with a sanitary environment, adequate health services and care that allows them to stay healthy and absorb the benefits from the foods they eat effectively. 

In general nutritionists prescribe minimum 9-10 food groups for an appropriately nutritious diet for infants, children and adolescents. These groups are cereals and millets, pulses, milk and milk products, roots and tubers, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, sugar, fat/oil and meat, fish, and eggs. However, for all age groups, quality, quantity and frequency matters for an adequate, safe and nutritious diets. 

In your opinion, is there anything else other than eating right, which is required to make a significant change in the nutritional status of India? 

Along with direct nutrition interventions, I would recommend indirect nutrition sensitive interventions to transform the nutrition landscape in India. India’s target-driven POSHAN Abhiyaan aims to make nutrition a household name and a people’s movement (Jan Andolan) with women leading from the front. Better convergence, addressing gender-based violence, perpetual exclusions and nutrition disruptions can empower women and increase access to key nutrition services and supplies. 

Infant and Young Child Feeding in India is abysmally poor. We need to work on social behaviour change communication and specifically work on quality home contacts and inter-personal counselling. 

The pandemic has taught us to revitalise the local food system. Working on Atmanirbhar POSHAN (Nutritional Self Reliance), revitalising food MSMEs and empowering small holder women farmers to produce safe and nutritious foods would be key to success. 

Safe water, good sanitation, hygiene and waste management are potent weapons to prevent deaths, specifically among children, and necessary for a malnutrition- and infection-free India. Women and children are the hardest hit and need it most. Sanitation/hygiene and eating right go hand in hand.


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Basanta Kumar Kar IMPAct4Nutrition