Malnutrition - Can it be combated?

By Janavi Gupta

Malnutrition is a condition that results from the absence of essential nutrients in one’s diet. It is one of the biggest problems faced by people in a large part of the world including India. The most prominent causes of malnutrition are either lack of affordability or lack of knowledge about food rich in nutritional content. This leads to various vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases. Marasmus and Kwashiorkor, which are most prevalent among growing children below the age of 5, ultimately lead to their early death. Likewise, lack of nutrition in pregnant women causes a decrease in immunity and higher risks of poor pregnancy outcomes. According to FAO estimates, nearly 200 million (15%) people are undernourished in India. Also, 51.4% of women in reproductive age are anaemic.

Malnutrition has negative impacts across multiple dimensions. These include an underdeveloped immune system as well as physical and mental underdevelopment. It results not only in physical unhealthiness all through an individual’s life but also inadequate job opportunities which have a great impact on both the individual and their family. Malnourished children are usually born in families where the parents are malnourished. Hence, it is a cycle unless there is some sort of an intervention to break the chain.

The chief causes of malnutrition are education and poverty. Malnourished children are more likely to be born to mothers with insufficient knowledge or nutritious food or in families unable to provide their children with basic food requirements. The Government of India has implemented several schemes to combat malnutrition in children and women. These include the Nutritious Meal Program, Kishori Shakti Yojna, National Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Program etc. However, there are various shortcomings in these schemes which include inaccessibility due to India being such a large country, poor quality of the food provided and hygiene issues.

It is critical to eradicate malnutrition to improve the human development index. Malnutrition can be combated not only by bringing changes to the various existing schemes but also through new interventions using STEM. In order to combat malnutrition, it has to be addressed in two different ways, namely prevention and detection.

The prevention intervention is aimed at preventing people from getting malnourished and staying healthy into adulthood. The other intervention is to detect people suffering from malnutrition and bring them out of malnutrition. These interventions can be very low-cost and yet highly effective. The solutions can range from creating basic awareness to leveraging technology to create scalable solutions.