How to Tackle Under-Nutrition Effectively : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Issues relating to poverty and hunger; Issues related to vulnerable sections (children).

Key Phrases: Under-nutrition, Stunting, Wasting, Underweight, Global Hunger Index, Decentralization of funds, functions, and functionaries, National Rural Health Mission, National Education Policy 2020, Women empowerment.

Why in News?

  • The recently released NFHS-5 brings out the unfinished agenda and the slow rate of decline in under-nutrition.
  • It reports that 35.5 percent of children under five are stunted, 19.3 percent wasted, and 32.1 percent underweight.
  • These are unacceptable levels and compromise India’s coming generation’s learning and health.

Do you know?

  • Malnutrition occurs when an individual gets too few or too many nutrients, resulting in health problems. Specifically, it is "a deficiency, excess, or imbalance of energy, protein, and other nutrients" which adversely affects the body's tissues and form.
  • Malnutrition is a category of diseases that includes undernutrition and over-nutrition.
  • Undernutrition is a lack of nutrients, which can result in stunted growth (low height-for-age), wasting (low weight-for-height), and underweight (low weight-for-age).

Why proper nutrition is important?

  • Science is certain that the persistence of under-nutrition creates irreversible changes in the learning abilities of many infants, besides susceptibility to disease as they grow.
  • The first thousand days are the key to reversing changes and ensuring proper nutritional development of every infant and mother.

What needs to be done?

  • Balanced and diverse meal:
    • While food grains contribute to food security, it does not alone address the challenge of chronic hunger and under-nutrition.
    • Infants in their growing age and pregnant women need a range of vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are not there in food grains alone.
    • They need a balanced and diverse meal where fruits and green vegetables, milk, eggs, pulses, oil, and paneer are all an integral part of the food.
    • Diversity of food in adequate quantity and of appropriate quality is the way forward.
  • Well-defined responsibilities of stakeholders:
    • If India wants to improve its position on the Global Hunger Index, it will have to address under-nutrition as a societal mission where women SHGs, panchayat leaders, frontline workers, and households have well-defined responsibilities.
    • It is time every infant and pregnant mother is monitored by a frontline worker or a community volunteer, and local governments have the responsibility and resources to seek redress of deficits.
  • Flexibility:
    • Flexibility and mid-course changes at the cutting edge to respond to felt need is a must in any system of public management.
    • The same size fits all is a recipe for disaster and flexibility calls for enormous public accountability.
  • Community-led planning:
    • There is a need to develop institutions of accountability through community monitoring and action, social audit, and community-led planning and implementation.
    • The National Rural Health Mission pushed the community activity of Village Health, Sanitation, Nutrition, and Health Days (VHSND). This thrust translated into an improvement in nutrition indicators.
    • Communities need attractive and periodic activities with a role in the monitoring of their children’s progress.
    • If more people in a village including panchayat leaders and women SHG (self-help group) and cooperative institution representatives can weigh and measure infants, timely interventions to tackle under-nutrition are possible.
  • Decentralization of funds, functions, and functionaries:
    • Decentralization through PRIs (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and urban local bodies with funds, functions, and functionaries become imperative to be able to make need-based choices and meet resource needs.
    • The Gram Panchayat Development planning process has to give primacy to nutrition as most of the 29 transferred sectors with Panchayats have a direct role in improving nutrition.
  • Day Care Centres:
    • Some very poor villages or hamlets may well need Day Care Centres and other support and the program has to be flexible enough to provide for need-based interventions at the local level.
  • Timely medical support:
    • The timely availability of basic medicines often reduces the incidence of wasting caused by seasonal illnesses drastically.
    • Measurement holds the key as it will facilitate a focus on those who need immediate attention. There may even be a need for care and support at a facility if infants have already fallen into severe under-nutrition.
  • Women empowerment:
    • Undernutrition also calls for an appreciation of the need for mature age at marriage and first delivery.
    • Social movements for women’s rights and care during adolescence and pregnancy need a strong thrust. With more women in Panchayats and a large presence of women SHGs under the Livelihood Mission in rural areas, it is an opportunity to make a difference in gender relations.
  • Behaviour change:
    • The nutrition challenge is also a women’s empowerment challenge. It is an important behaviour change challenge in favour of exclusive breastfeeding, natural foods instead of junk food, clean water, sanitation, and food diversity.
  • Partnership with schools:
    • The National Education Policy 2020 has emphasized the continuum of learning and views pre-school learning as integral to primary learning.
    • It is hoped that the partnership with schools will improve access to food for children in the 3-6 age group. The duplication will lead to savings that should be used more effectively for 6–36-month infants.
  • Focus on wider determinants of undernutrition:
    • There is a strong case for wider determinants of health priority, considering the impact of clean water on water-borne diseases, sanitation on vector-borne diseases, and improved housing and safe cooking on the physical and environmental health of the poor households.
    • With a thrust on these sectors as part of the pro-poor public welfare and improving ease of living, it is a good time to make quantum gains in nutrition.


  • The challenge of tackling under-nutrition is no rocket science. It can be tackled effectively over a short period if the thrust is correct.
  • Technology can at best be a means and monitoring tool has to become local and community-led. Panchayats and community organizations are the best way forward.
  • Support for immunization and health services and periodic health assessments by trained local community frontline workers will be helpful.
  • Guidance to parents is needed and the greater the interaction of the frontline worker with households, the greater the likelihood of timely interventions.
  • Let us address the curse of under-nutrition with the complete involvement of State, local governments, civil society, community organizations, industry, business, and all of society and government.

Source: The Hindu BL

Mains Question:

Q. Discuss the challenge of achieving good nutrition and suggest some suitable measures to improve undernutrition in India.