Lucknow: September holds profound significance for health nutritionists in India, as it was officially declared as National Nutrition Month by the Indian government in 2018, known as Poshan Maah. This campaign is dedicated to addressing the grave issue of malnutrition in India, which has been identified as a significant hindrance to the country's global economic potential.
Malnutrition is recognized as a primary factor impeding India's global economic potential. While fertility rates and malnutrition have decreased over the past two decades (IIPS, 2017), challenges persist due to their devastating impact on children's health.
Severe acute malnutrition is characterized by a markedly low weight for height, visible severe wasting, or the presence of nutritional edema. Despite the decline in fertility and malnutrition in the past two decades (IIPS, 2017), significant challenges remain, as malnutrition continues to adversely affect children's health.
Stunting and wasting are two critical indicators of malnourishment. According to the 2019-21 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), nutrition indicators for children under five have improved compared to the 2015-16 levels. Stunting has decreased from 38.4% to 35.5%, and wasting has reduced from 21.0% to 19.3%. However, it is crucial to note that over one-third of children still suffer from stunting, and one-fifth experience wasting.
Professor Laxmi Kant Bharti, from the Department of Paedology at Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Lucknow, emphasized, "Stunting is a grave health indicator in children, signifying long-term malnourishment."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), wasting is defined as "low weight-for-height," often indicating recent and severe weight loss, although it can persist over an extended period due to insufficient quality and quantity of food and frequent or prolonged illnesses.
Even after decades, India has the highest number of children under five affected by severe wasting, with 5,772,472 cases, as warned by UNICEF in May 2022. With approximately 7.7 million malnourished children, the South Asian region remains the global epicenter of severe wasting, trailing behind the usual suspect, Sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite significant improvements, various health indicators for women, as revealed in the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019-21), remain alarming:
57% of women aged 15-49 suffer from anemia.
41.3% of women are obese.
10% of women have a below-normal BMI.
Poshan Maah is a month-long observance focused on promoting nutrition and raising awareness about the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet, particularly among women and children. It takes place annually in September and is a vital component of India's broader National Nutrition Mission, known as Poshan Abhiyan.
The mission's primary objectives are to reduce malnutrition and stunting in children, enhance maternal nutrition, and elevate overall nutritional awareness and practices throughout the nation. The campaign underscores the pivotal role of nutrition in achieving the country's health and development objectives.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Prof. (Dr.) Laxmikant Bharti explained that the concept of Nutrition Month originated in the United States through the American Dietary Association. In India, it was introduced around 1983-84. He highlighted that the government previously observed Nutrition Week until 2018, when the entire month of September was designated as Nutrition Month.
Dr. Bharti stressed the significance of nutrition during the first 1000 days of a child's life, including the ninth month before birth, as the foundation for their future. Emphasis is placed on addressing micronutrient deficiencies such as zinc and selenium, as well as the promotion of nutrient-rich millets, aligning with the UN's observance of 2023 as the Year of Millets.
Poshan Maah is a pivotal component of Poshan Abhiyan, representing the Indian government's commitment to combat malnutrition and enhance the nutritional status of the population, with a particular focus on pregnant women, lactating mothers, infants, and young children. Throughout Poshan Maah, various activities and events are organized nationwide to create awareness and educate people about the importance of proper nutrition.
Common activities and strategies during Poshan Maah include:
Nutrition Education: Health workers provide information on the significance of a balanced diet, including the incorporation of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and essential nutrients into daily meals, taking affordability into account.
School Programs: Schools participate by offering special nutrition-themed lessons and activities to students, providing them with nutritious meals.
Community Workshops: Workshops and seminars are conducted to educate communities, especially women and mothers, on the importance of proper nutrition for themselves and their children.
Poshan Mela: These events cover women's and children's health issues, featuring special medical camps for growth measurement and health parameter checks.
Educational Resources: Distribution of brochures, posters, and online resources that offer nutrition tips, meal planning guides, and other educational materials.
Growth Monitoring: Tracking the growth and development of children to identify signs of malnutrition and provide timely interventions.
Promoting Breastfeeding: Encouraging and supporting mothers to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life, as it provides essential nutrients and disease protection. In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, some hospitals facilitate breast milk donation, helping combat malnutrition.
Supplementation: Distributing micronutrient supplements, such as iron and folic acid, to pregnant and lactating women and children as needed.
Cooking Demonstrations: Families are provided with demonstrations on how to prepare nutritious meals using locally available and affordable ingredients.
Mass Media Campaigns: Utilizing television, radio, and social media to disseminate information about nutrition and health. Social media campaigns have become increasingly effective due to the widespread internet penetration.
Health workers nationwide play a pivotal role in making the government's efforts successful. However, the government faces the challenge of accelerating progress toward a malnutrition-free country.