Severity Of The Issue
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2016 report, India ranked 97 among 118 countries. It’s tragic that one of the largest producers of cereals, vegetables and fruits in the world – India has 184 million undernourished people. As per World Bank estimates, the country is losing $12 billion in gross domestic product across the world every year due to “hidden hunger”. Clearly, the magnitude of hidden hunger is at alarmingly high levels.
Iron deficiency - anaemia results in an eight-point lower intelligence quotient in children. Then, there is also the widely prevalent deficiencies of vitamins (B and D) and zinc that have a distressing impact on the population. Diminished cognitive and motor development, growth retardation, weak immune response, and less endurance for physical activity is a common affliction among children.
Reasons For Hidden Hunger
Contrary to popular belief, hidden hunger is as common amongst the upper and middle class as it is in the lower income groups of Indian society.
There are three main reasons for micronutrient deficiencies in India.
Nutrient-poor diet: While on one end there is insufficient quantity of nutrition, on the other there is poor quality. High calorie but low nutrient ‘junk-food diet’ is fast piling on the plates of children in India. So, while there are malnourished children, there are also seemingly well-fed children that are in fact suffering from lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Lack of diversity in diet: A predominantly plant-based diet reduces the availability of essential micronutrients, either due to low nutrient content of the meal or poor nutrient bioavailability. Reducing consumption of dairy products and fruits and vegetables further depletes the nutrient quality of the diet.
Poor immunity: Illness increases the demand for nutrients for the immune system to fight against the infection. However, nutrient deficiencies dent the nourishment capacity of the body as it limits the ability to bolster immune defences against infection. So, it forms a vicious circle that is self-detrimental.
Solution For Hidden Hunger
The problem requires a shift in the focus towards improvement in dietary quality to promote the health of children.
The solution lies in fortification and supplementation as they provide specific micronutrients such as iron and folic acid on a mass scale to the deprived population. They are both feasible solutions in terms of cost and capacity to boost nutrient accessibility. Fortification is the process of adding small quantities of the missing vitamins and minerals to staples – such as rice, wheat flour, salt, and milk – to improve their nutritional value. Supplementation is the method of introducing concentrated sources of micronutrients with a nutritional or physiological effect, in addition to the normal diet.
India knows that its economic ambition requires prioritizing child nutrition. And as a responsible parent, you need to avail all the resources around you. So, as a parent use the available health and nutrition resources to provide your child with all the nourishment he/she needs. Using iodised salt to season your child’s meals or including health food drinks such as Horlicks as a supplement in the regular meal plan will go a long way in protecting them from hidden hunger. After all, the continuance of national development requires a strong and healthy youth population.