Although the second phase of the National Family Health Survey 2019-20 has gotten delayed because of the pandemic, the first phase data is now out and it makes for extremely sobering reading. There is cause for concern specifically on the malnutrition front, where most states have reported worsened indicators since NFHS 2015-16. For example the proportion of severely wasted children has gone up in 14 out of the 18 states (including the UT of J&K). Although its magnitude stands out in certain regions, the slippage is seen across rich and poor states.
The pandemic has likely intensified this trend. Indeed it has so compounded the unemployment, poverty, hunger cycle across the globe that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the World Food Programme. In his acceptance speech executive director David Beasley highlighted how food is “the pathway to peace”. It is of course also the pathway to progress – with research suggesting that 90% of the brain grows by age five so that proper nutrition and stimulation in the early years can make future decades 50% more productive.
There is a need for serious revaluation of India’s various nutrition schemes to understand why they are missing the mark. Underlying factors like women’s literacy and age at marriage or the family’s access to safe drinking water and sanitation could have as important a role as straightforward availability of provisions. Specific local factors would also be at play. Overall its endemicity also means that this is quite a complex equation to solve. But the task is crucial. It is not poetic licence to say that children are our future. A country where their bodies and brains are not properly nourished cannot hope to deliver on other development metrics like workforce productivity and economic growth.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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