New Delhi: The month of September is marked as Rashtriya Poshan Maah or Nutrition Month as part of the Government’s national flagship programme, POSHAN Abhiyaan also known as the National Nutrition Mission. The programme was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in 2018 with the agenda to reduce undernutrition levels among children below six years of age, pregnant women, and lactating mothers in the country. This year, POSHAN Maah is being marked with the theme – Suposhit Bharat, Sakshar Bharat, Sashakt Bharat (Well-Nourished, Well-Read And Empowered India) that primarily focusses on key human life cycle stages—pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.
To know more about the significance of celebrating POSHAN Maah and the nutrition goals that the country has to achieve, Team Banega Swasth India spoke to Dr. Hemalatha R, Director, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), National Institute of Nutrition. Dr Hemalatha is also a renowned researcher and expert in the field of maternal and child health and nutrition.
NDTV: How important is marking an entire month as POSHAN Maah and how can it help the country achieve its nutrition goals?
Dr. Hemalatha R: In India, during POSHAN Maah, several sensitisation activities take place focusing on key themes related to nutrition. Millions of people participate in these activities thereby initiating the chain of greater awareness, knowledge and understanding of the topic. This year, which marks the sixth year of POSHAN Maah, the theme is Suposhit Bharat, Sakshar Bharat, Sashakt Bharat which is a ‘nutrition-rich, educated and empowered India’. The aim is to promote nutrition understanding to tackle the issues of malnutrition through a lifecycle approach wherein people at vulnerable life stages such as pregnancy, lactation, adolescence and children under six-years of age are targeted. Within the main theme, there are campaigns on several sub-topics that include exclusive breastfeeding, Poshan Bhi Padhai Bhi that guides about improving nutrition while educating children. And Mission LiFE campaign, mobilises people to become pro-planet, when people demand healthy food, demand can affect supply chains and trigger shifts in policies that can support both sustainable consumption and production.
There are also themes like Tribal-Focussed Nutrition Sensitisation. Also, there are programmes on anaemia and breastfeeding. With all these initiatives in place, POSHAN Maah is poised to improve the knowledge among people and stakeholders in India.
NDTV: How would you assess India’s performance so far to meet its targets for maternal, infant and young child nutrition?
Dr. Hemalatha R: Talking about numbers, in India, stunting (which happens when a child is too short for his or her age) has declined from 48 per cent in 2006 to 35.5 per cent in 2019-2020 according to the National Family Health Survey 5 data. As far as the global burden is concerned, India’s share has also declined from roughly 30 per cent to 25 per cent. In low index states, there has been a striking decline in stunting rates, to an extent of 5-7 per cent.
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However, the prevalence of overweight children has increased across India. Also, though modest-secular trend in height is occurring in India. And, in some states the trend is similar to that of developed countries.
Wasting has not improved over the years. But, the fact remains that about 50 per cent of those children who are categorised as wasted in India are actually normal for their age. This means, these children are growing tall but if you measure their weight for height, they fall short of required weight, and are termed as wasted. This is paradox, when children are growing normally they cannot be wasting (muscle wasting), which is pathological. A child who is actually in the wasting condition will not be growing tall (linearly). The metric that we currently use for measuring nutritional status may not capture those children who actually need immediate attention.
NDTV: India faces the dual challenge of undernutrition and overnutrition in the form of rising instances of obesity, as NFHS-5 has highlighted. What is the government’s strategy to tackle these twin challenges?
Dr. Hemalatha R: Currently, India’s focus is mostly on undernutrition. The NFHS 5 data shows that every fifth person is suffering from hypertension. Diabetes is not just an urban phenomenon any more, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases even in rural areas. Once upon a time, fatty liver disease was only associated with people under the influence of alcohol. Now in India, roughly 30-40 per cent of people suffer from this disease and we call it non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. All these problems are on the rise because of our poor dietary habits and excessive consumption of HFSS foods. Ayushman Bharat, a flagship scheme of Government of India, was launched as recommended by the National Health Policy, 2017, under which several lakhs of Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) were initiated and there is a scheme- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) to provide a health cover of Rs. 5 lakhs per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization to over 12 crores poor and vulnerable families.
In addition, the FSSAI launched the Eat Right movement in 2018-to create awareness about the importance of eating right. Also, the Thoda Kam campaign engaging celebrities to urge people to reduce their salt, sugar and fat intake. Complementing these ideas, the Fit India movement, launched by the prime minister in 2019, encourages citizens from all age groups to engage in physical activities. These movements are aligned with the government’s flagship public health programmes such as Poshan Abhiyaan, to address rising challenges like NCDs. But we need systemic change in agriculture and Policy support for formulation of healthy foods and making them available in affordable costs.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitationand Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.