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Malnutrition: A Global Challenge Along With A Dearth Of Food

Malnutrition is not only about the lack of food- in this era of affluence; being overfed in itself is a disease and is the other end of malnutrition.

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Malnutrition as per the Oxford Dictionary is defined as, Quote “Lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat.”…unquote.

However, malnutrition is not only about the lack of food- in this era of affluence; being overfed in itself is a disease and is the other end of malnutrition.

According to the UNICEF, 69% of deaths of children below the age of five, in the year 2019 in India were due to some form of Malnutrition.

This malnutrition begins from the mother’s womb and carries on into adulthood, further giving offspring’s that are poorly nourished with low stores. In India, the main reason for this spectrum of malnutrition and overweight malnutrition is due to economic inequality. 

The UNICEF report stated that only 65% of the infants in the age of 6-8 months were initiated with timely complementary feeding. Malnourished infants have a weakened immune system, poor brain development, hampered learning, increased infections and in some cases if not addressed proactively- even death.

Overweight and obesity are the opposite ends of the spectrum.

India was an agricultural nation and we held pride. Such that 60% of the population a few years ago was into farming and cultivation. This meant that they ate what they cultivated: Home-cooked, healthy, fresh and seasonal as against the present day scenario where Urban India is moving towards industrialization, lifestyle changes (unhealthy) and altered food habits. 

An observation of the Indian diaspora shows that from the very beginning our diets are devoid in proteins and micronutrients. We are leaning more towards processed and packed foods. It has been noticed that childhood obesity is not a thing of the past anymore. The Indian population is now witnessing to children suffering from Diabetes; high blood pressure & diabetes.

This is because as the spending capacity/ incomes increase- our choice of food still remains incorrect i.e.: the consumption of fruits and vegetables has decreased and packaged foods has gone up. 77% of processed foods sales is owned by 100 large firms.

The rise in hunger & economic slowdown are not the only factors that contribute to malnutrition. Apart from these 2 key factors; climate changes, rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons are also part of the cause.

Anaemia is common in the overfed and underfed. Every second woman in India is Anaemic.

Having said this- the other side of malnutrition is – obesity!

Obesity is on the rise. Undernutrition & obesity coexist. It is interesting to see that even though nutritious/healthy food maybe available- it is not at an affordable cost- this deters people to make the right choices. 

E.g: a vadapav would cost you Rs10-15/-, but a healthy salad would cost you nothing less than Rs.250/-

It has been seen that food-insecure families are at a higher risk of being overweight because the stress of living with food insecurity and the psychological issues that surround it- contribute to the risk of overweight and obesity.

Hence it is very evident, that there is a dearth of food available- but unavailable due to various reasons such as hoarding to increase demand and thereby an increased price – which not everybody can afford, incorrect storage which leads to rotting, economic conditions etc.

The government has now begun the POSHAN Abhiyan, as it recognizes malnutrition as a national problem. The mission is to improve nutritional markers across the nation. Along with this- there is also Anaemia Mukt Bharat which focuses on eradicating anaemia. It has been recognised as one of the best programs, implemented by the governments across the world to address and eradicate malnutrition.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Delnaaz T Chanduwadia

The author is Chief Dietician, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre

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