From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Global Hunger Index, NFHS report
Mains level : Issues with GHI parameters
- The fountainhead is a 16-year-old German and Irish organization, which measures and ranks countries on a hunger index at the global, regional, and national levels, but not at the sub-national level where some Indian states fare better. The Global Hunger Index’s (GHI) stated aim is to reduce hunger around the world. But its methodology focuses disproportionately on less than five-year-old’s.
- Mixing the hunger and nutrition: In common parlance, hunger and nutrition are two different things. Hunger is associated with food scarcity and starvation. It produces images of emaciated people holding empty food bowls.
- Wrong data collection methods: GHI uses childhood mortality and nutrition indicators. But its preamble states “communities, civil society organizations, small producers, farmers, and indigenous groups shape how access to nutritious food is governed.”
- Irony of food grain availability: This suggests that GHI sees hunger as a food production challenge when, according to the FAO, India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of grain and the largest producer of milk; when the per capita intake of grain, vegetables and milk has increased manifold. It is, therefore, contentious and unacceptable to club India with countries facing serious food shortages, which is what GHI has done.
Data according to the latest National Family Health Survey Report
- Comparative state level data collection: The sensational use of the word hunger is abhorrent given the facts. But there is no denying that in India, nutrition, particularly child nutrition, continues to be a problem. Unlike the GHI, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) does a good job of providing comparative state-level data, including the main pointers that determine health and nutrition.
- Crucial health parameters included: NFHS provides estimates of underweight, (low weight for age), stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height). These conditions affect preschool children (those less than 6 years of age) disproportionately and compromise a child’s physical and mental development while also increasing the vulnerability to infections.
- Undernourishment is included: Undernourished mothers (attributable to social and cultural practices,) give birth to low-birth-weight babies that remain susceptible to infections, transporting their handicaps into childhood and adolescence. NFHS includes undernourishment parameter.
Why nutrition is the best indicator of health?
- Link between nutrition and disease: There are links between the nutritional status of young children with the post-neonatal phase when children suffer from acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases. Sanitation and hygiene require much more work.
- Diet and food intake is important: Professor V Subramanian at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health writes, “There is a need to declutter the current approaches to child undernutrition by keeping it simple. I advise against a disproportionate focus on anthropometry (body measurements); instead, the need is to have a direct engagement with actual diet and food intake.”
How to overcome the child nutrition challenge?
- Improving the breast feeding: The first child nutrition challenge relates to breastfeeding. The WHO and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth and infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. According to NFHS 5, in India, the percentage improvement of children who were exclusively breastfed when under six months, rose from 55 per cent in NFHS 4 to 64 per cent in NFHS 5. That is progress, but it is not enough. By not being breastfed, an infant is denied the benefits of acquiring antibodies against infections, allergies and even protection against several chronic conditions.
- Better nutritional practice: The second issue relates to young child feeding practices. At root are widespread practices like not introducing semi-solid food after six months, prolonging breastfeeding well beyond the recommended six months and giving food lacking in nutritional diversity. NFHS 5 shows that the improvement has been marginal over the last two reports and surprisingly, states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Assam, UP and Gujarat are at the tail end.
- Continuation of nutrition programmes: Almost one dozen nutrition programmes have been under implementation since 1975. Several more have been added of late, but most beneficiaries of these food distribution programmes are kids attending anganwadis or schools, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating mothers. This must continue but new-Borns, infants, and toddlers need attention too. Monitoring weight is an indicator, not a solution.
- States must be encouraged: States should be urged to examine the NFHS findings to steer a new course to improve the poshan practices for the youngest and the most vulnerable sections of society.
- Better child rearing practices: Helping mothers to better the lives of their infants and toddlers right inside the home by measuring and demonstrating how much diet, food intake and child-rearing practices matter.
- We should lose no more time over the GHI rankings, which are distorted and irrelevant. India has successfully overcome much bigger problems reduced maternal and child mortality, improved access to sanitation, clean drinking water and clean cooking fuel. Our focus should be on nutrition rather than hunger.
Critically analyze the India’s hunger problem in light of Global Hunger Index. What are initiatives of Government of India to overcome hunger and nutrition challenge?