Addressing Child Malnutrition: Building a Brighter Future

    • By,
      Bhagyashri Sanjay Wankhade – Student, Kautilya

Health and nutrition greatly influence a child’s ability to learn and grow. Like a delicate plant, a child’s mind needs proper nourishment. While books and classrooms are important, their food is equally important. As per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, insufficient diets and malnutrition can cause cognitive deficiencies that impair a child’s capacity for learning and academic performance. Therefore, parents and society need to take a greater role in children’s nutrition, and policymakers must understand this connection.

One can think the reason behind the lower concentration span and deteriorating cognitive abilities is a child’s constant hunger as specific reports, including the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, The Global Report on Food Crises, 193 million individuals in 53 countries or territories suffered food insecurity at a crisis level in 2021. According to a study by St. John Fisher University, low nutrition levels impair students’ academic outcomes. This impact can be seen on a larger domain and further distances. According to an Economics Times study, India’s economy experiences an annual loss of $46 billion because of malnutrition. The children are badly impacted by illnesses, educational limitations, and fewer opportunities, which restrict them from having a normal life.

As per data from UDISE-Plus 2021-22, students in Indian classrooms, despite being crowded, the pupil-teacher ratio(PTR) varies across different states and regions in India. On average, at the All India level, the PTR is 26:1 for primary, 19:1 for upper primary, 17:1 for secondary, and 27:1 for higher secondary. However, still, students focus on gaining knowledge and improving themselves. Unfortunately, their journey is interrupted by an invisible enemy: malnutrition. More than half of the children suffer from delayed development due to malnutrition, and 38.4 percent are underweight, as per the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4). This shows, yet again, how a concrete link between educational milestones, nutrition health, and cognitive well-being is widespread in India, where many children fail to reach their full growth potential primarily due to malnutrition. These trends will lead to both mental and physical health outcomes. Another common issue impacting the nation at large is that 4% of GDP is spent annually on health, which is very low compared to other countries. Besides its disadvantages in low healthcare, it also causes low economic growth and fewer employment opportunities.

A big chunk of Indian kids who are younger than 5 years old face chronic malnutrition issues that influences their physical development. Poor health, malnutrition, and less learning among kids are interlinked on a broader level. This is reflected in the form of 50% stunted growth and 33% children being underweight. Their mental health and physical health will be impacted severely.

More than half of the children living in rural areas in India such as Melghat are malnourished. This impacts them physically and is likely to impact their education. The factors that contribute to malnutrition and poor developmental cycles among children include low-income rates, reduced access to healthier foods, and traditional habits of certain cultures. States with low economic capital, like Bihar, have higher out-of-pocket expenditures in healthcare, and states with higher financial capital have lower out-of-pocket spending.

India’s ‘Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman project aims to improve health and nutrition for expecting moms and kids. Training lessons focus on the connection between health and education, an essential investment for a promising future. Better long-term food helps education, work speed, and spending on healthcare. Self-reliance projects like the Millet Mission and community gardens like the addressing malnutrition management scheme by Vikas Samvad, an NGO based in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, provides the right platform where people can interact with each other, and have a physical space in which to get active while gain nutrients during all this process. They help communities grow stronger and change lives for the better. These plans help us make our health and society better.

We must remember these issues are not just limited to the Melghat area; they can occur anywhere. This issue underscores the dire urgency to change the way we approach things on an urgent basis. For example, Uttarakhand has launched a program that allows anyone to adopt a child suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). This helps to care for the health and education during the early years of the child’s life. Meanwhile, in Odisha, the Department of Women and Child Development established Mothers Committees and Jaanch Committees at the village level to institutionalize community-level monitoring of child nutrition. To live a good quality life, having three main things is essential; a well-balanced diet (enough food), good health, and education.

We can look at the success story of Nidhi, a two-year-old from a family of daily workers who earn little money, she was very sick because she didn’t have enough food to eat. This made her so weak that she couldn’t even crawl around. Rekha, a worried neighbor, told Nidhi’s mom and dad about the CSAM program. Even though they were initially unsure because of their daily wage reliance, they signed Nidhi up. Nidhi’s health improved after she started getting regular health tests, eating healthy food that was right for her and taking medicine from the local child care centre called the Anganwadi Centre. After seeing good results, her parents signed their other kids up for the After-School Program. They thanked Rekha for helping their family. Nidhi’s story is encouraging, but it shows that many more kids need help like this to improve their lives. This provides a pathway for each child who faces any circumstance that will help them to grow and perform best. By promising to feed our minds, bodies, and souls, we must ensure our health and make tomorrow brighter. We need to stop malnutrition on a gradual basis.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.