Malnutrition: A major social hurdle
The Lancet diet chart gives details about daily requirements of balanced food, but uncertainty prevails over fulfilling these in our society
The Lancet, one of the most credible medical journals, took up the challenge to study the dietary patterns around the world and then come up with recommendations for a healthy diet. It formed an EAT Lancet Commission for the purpose, which had 37 members on it. From our country, a renowned Cardiologist and President of the Public Health Foundation of India, Dr K Srinath Reddy and Sunita Narayan - Director General, Centre for Science and Environment and editor of the Down to Earth were the part of this team.
The commission's exercise was done with the focus on how to maintain good health of a person in regard to dietary intake and the impact of present-day dietary patterns on the environment. The commission studied the need to develop such dietary habits which are sustainable and ensure availability of sufficient food in times to come. The recommendations also highlight the need for intake of micronutrients required for physical and mental growth.
Thus, they have come out with recommendations about diet which is essential, healthy and also environmental friendly. Its basic recommendations include less intake of red meat and sugar along with increased intake of vegetables.
The recommendations also take into consideration the report of Food and Agriculture Organisation of UNO which points out that emissions from the global livestock account for 14.5 per cent of the greenhouse gases emission as a result of the human activity.
Despite economic growth, the nutritional status of our children is alarmingly below required standards. Roughly 40 per cent of children under five are stunted and 21 per cent of children under five are severely wasted or undernourished. Needless to say that a well-nourished child is likely to have better immunity and has more chances to remain healthy and grow well. Most of the undernourished children come from poor socio-economic groups.
In India, 44 per cent of children under the age of 5 are underweight. 72 per cent of infants and 52 per cent of married women have anaemia. Research has conclusively shown that malnutrition during pregnancy causes the child to have increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities. Malnutrition in our country is both lack of calories as well as lack of intake of nutrients in proper proportion.
The Lancet diet chart has given a deep insight into the daily requirements of balanced food, fulfilling caloric requirements as well as ingredients essential for the growth of different body parts and mental faculties. The question, however, is how to fulfil these in the socio-economic structure of our society?
The average approximate cost of this diet was found to be around Rs 130 per person per day. For a family of 5 members, this comes out to be Rs 650 per day or Rs 19500 per month. This is impossible to be met with in present-day economic structure of our country. According to the World Bank data, 27 crores people in our country are poor who cannot afford two square meals per day. With the economic reforms undertaken by the government, there is a constant onslaught on the poor strata of people. Jobs are being constantly outsourced. Wages of workers are falling every day. The social security benefits are being withdrawn.
For these people, it is a nightmarish job to feed themselves a balanced diet. There is, thus, need for very strong economic reforms for the job security of workers, fixing minimum wages based on persons daily food intake and his/her other needs of the family including clothing, housing, education, recreation, etc. For this, we need a powerful public movement if we have to feed our children and develop a healthy nation.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is Senior Vice President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)