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Socio-economic Impact Of Malnutrition In India

A pro-nutrition social transformation agenda needs to be put in place to guarantee a healthy and competent population

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Republic of India, with a population of 1.2 billion and ranking high among the most malnourished countries has landed in a condition where 'Malnutrition Impact Factor' ( MIF) can neither be ignored nor remain as statistical data in the books of analysts for reporting alone. It is now established that malnutrition is responsible for rising occurrence of diseases and disability, lowered brain development in children and consequently lowered potential as individuals. The effects of poor nutrition and its repercussions have become evident through various studies and have already started affecting nation's holistic socio-economic growth and productivity silently but adversely.

India is currently bearing a huge weight of malnutrition. Its demographics are higher on the side of young individuals with 45 per cent of Indian population being 0-25 years of age only wherein 45 per cent of children aged upto 5 years are stunted and more than 70 per cent are anemic. Malnutrition is a multi-causal problem trapped in the circle of poverty, illiteracy and physical incapacity. Under-nourished mothers are unable to provide complete nutrition to fetuses/ infants resulting in underweight and stunted children with poor immunity. Major reason for under-5 year mortality rate is in fact inadequate nutrition.

Malnutrition influences an individual socially as well economically. Productive capacity is affected due to low energy, slower brain development & morbidity. Poorly developed brain generates pressure on schools due to low school performance, grade repetition and even causes early desertion of school despite availability of free education. Malnourished, stunted & weak individuals have lowered self esteem and confidence. They tend to retreat from society with little or no contribution towards nation building. Malnutrition impairs immunity increasing disease & disability. Lower performance of manual productivity especially in the agriculture and services sector can distort the expected economic output substantially. It causes shear wastage of human capability while being a burden on the economy. The costs of malnutrition have been studied to vary from 2 per cent to 16 per cent of GDP depending upon location and sector (Study carried out by COHA).

A pro-nutrition social transformation agenda needs to be put in place to guarantee a healthy and competent population. Only 1.8 per cent of GDP has been allocated to health sector in current budget for India. The health care sector includes sanitation, safe drinking water, medical amenities & reimbursements and nutrition. Needless to say that nutrition remains by and large subdued. Furthermore, the banner of nutrition mandates providing food but it neither covers complete nutrition palette required for a healthy and productive life nor does it ensure efforts to recover from under-nutrition.

It can be conclusively stated that to fight malnutrition there is need of stronger determination, political commitment in the form of special policy intervention, budgetary capacity and monitoring. Review reports (NIPFP) have shown higher income in those states which have relatively higher per capita expenditure on health. The Copenhagen Consensus emphasized that ensuring good nutrition is the single most important, cost-effective means of advancing human well-being. Providing accessibility to nourishing food, educating about the importance of intake of all essential micro as well as macro nutrients and making it mandatory to monitor health status especially of women and children can help raise an efficient demographic dividend.

It is time to realize that the effectiveness of budgetary allocations for all the other developments as well as realization of income expectations for growth in GDP rests largely on the shoulders of the demographic dividend of India which needs to be strengthened both in mind and body to ensure "Transformed, Energised and Clean India".

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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Vikrant Sandal

Sandal is a Social Entrepreneur and a Diplomat. He is associated with an Intergovernmental Organization of the United Nations, IIMSAM, as its Ambassador to Republic of India & Ambassador-at-Large for South Asia

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