THE QUESTION OF FOOD

By Vasundhara Pande

04/12/2020 08:45 IST

“India ranked 97th among 107 nations in the Global Hunger Index in 2020.”

Malnutrition can be broadly understood as; lack of proper nutrition, not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things or being unable to use the food that we eat. All of these factors sum up to a nutritional deficiency (lack of proper intake of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals). According to WHO, there are two broad groups of malnutrition; undernutrition which is further classified into four types; wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for weight), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer). Since childhood, I was unaware about the fact that undernutrition and obesity both come under malnutrition instead of the former being alone. This takes me back to the balanced diet chart that we were all taught in childhood and while writing this article I understand its significance!

In many Indian, especially poor households’ women and children are generally malnourished, which can be attributed to many factors. With one in two women suffering from Anaemia which is primarily caused by iron deficiency; long hours of standing in the kitchen and working puts a heavy toll on women’s health. With women being the last in the family (often is joint families) to eat, a balanced diet or proper food for them remains unguaranteed. Inadequate agricultural processes and imperfect food distribution are to be held responsible for insufficient availability of food in many regions. According to the National Family Health Survey, 35.7% of Indian children below five years of age are malnourished, about 38.4% have stunted growth and about 24% are wasted, which means they are underweight. Overall, 14.8% of the Indian population is undernourished. The data of GHI report from 1991 through 2014 for Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan showed that stunting is concentrated among children from households facing multiple forms of deprivation, including poor dietary diversity, low levels of maternal education, and household poverty. With many households getting destroyed at the hands of alcoholism, proper food remains unguaranteed to the innocent child, who suffers both undernourishment and deprivation.

Researchers, today have found an astonishing form of malnourishment in the wealthier, privileged, urban populations which was traditionally associated with underprivileged, rural and poor populations. A recent trend in many urban families is that of micronutrient deficiency which is a specific type of malnourishment which may or may not be present in overweight, underweight or normal populations. A significant amount of population doesn’t have enough to eat, while those who do aren’t consuming sufficient amounts or not eating enough of the right things. Diets of two-thirds of the population in India are zinc-deficient, 89% are iron deficient and 85% are Vitamin A-deficient,” reports one recent analysis. Other reports suggest nearly 80% of the population is vitamin D deficient.

Inflexible and stressful lifestyle often subsumes the youth of the urban families and succumbs them to indulge in foods less rich in vital nutrients like carbonated drinks, fast food, oily food etc. The conscious choice of cultivating higher yielding crops than higher nutrient crops and crops losing their nutrient value due to climate change are equal shareholders in producing less nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. Over-cooking and over-processing food, makes it less- nutrient rich.

Malnutrition proves to a bane for a child’s health. Stunted growth, poor cognitive ability and reduced school performance are among the worst of problems. For pregnant and malnourished women complications occur as well as the infant is more prone to be malnourished. A deficiency in certain vital vitamins and minerals can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes in young, obese adults. It was especially found that minerals such as chromium are essential in regulating blood sugar, and help insulin transport glucose into cells. Indians who were obese and suffering from type 2 diabetes had 20 to 40% lower blood chromium levels. Other health risks from micronutrient deficiencies include a host of nutrient deficiency diseases, as well as early onset of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, increased chances of fractures, bone and muscle ache, eye disorders and Anaemia, among other possible ailments.

Although, it is impossible to detect malnutrition from the human eye, Child Growth Monitor app (CGM), proves to be the light at the end of the tunnel. The cloud-based, smartphone application powered by Microsoft Azure and AI services, is an intelligent application that can detect malnutrition and enable health workers identify and provide care to children struggling from chronic undernourishment. Both governmental and non-governmental organisations can join hands in ensuring qualitative access to food by adequate food delivery services. Simple dietary adjustments are suggested for the malnourished populations with taking diets rich in nutrients. Adopting more sustainable agricultural practices like reducing the usage of chemicals and fertilizers can prove to be beneficial. At last, this is the best possible way to answer, be mindful of your food habits and eat fresh or less overcooked fruits and vegetables.

About Authors.

Vasundhara Pande

Editor In Chief (INARA)

References.

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