Why we need to focus on nutrition, not hunger

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Source: The post is based on an article “Why we need to focus on nutrition, not hunger” published in The Indian Express on 28th October 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Social Justice

Relevance: concerns associated with GHI 2002 ranking of India

News: The Global Hunger Index of 2022 has lowered India’s ranking to 107 out of 121 from 101 out of 116 countries in 2021.

This has placed India below all South Asian countries except Afghanistan and also below several poor African countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo.

What is Global Hunger Index?

What are the problems with hunger calculation of GHI?

The Global Hunger Index can be viewed at the level of theory, at the level of methodology, and at the level of Indian peculiarities.

Theory: GHI sees hunger as a food production challenge whereas according to FAO, India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of grain and the largest producer of milk with the increase in the per capita intake.

  • India has improved so much in its food production that it offered recently to supply food to the world if permitted by WTO.
  • Further, Amartya Sen has said that the reasons behind poverty and hunger is not the food availability issues but it is the improper food distribution. He further said that India is unable to use its resources properly to fight poverty and hunger.

Therefore, putting India at 107th position in GHI 2022 and clubbing it with countries facing serious food shortages is unacceptable.

Methodology: There is also concern in the methodology of calculating GHI as the methods used by GHI calculations are about 20 years old.

  • GHI uses caloric consumption in calculating GHI but measures of hunger and poverty are moving away from caloric consumption to nutrition.
  • Further, its methodology to calculate hunger is not accurate as it focuses disproportionately on children less than five-year-old.

Indian peculiarities: Indians are mostly vegetarians whereas countries around the world are mostly non-vegetarians.

  • Therefore, child wasting and stunting in India can possibly because of imbalanced vegetarian diets and animal protein deficiencies rather than energy deficits.
  • This shows that comparing India with other countries in the world is not proper.

However, it is a well-established fact that nutrition, especially child nutrition is a problem in India and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) provides a better picture of health and nutrition in India.

What is the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)?

What are the causes of malnutrition amongst children in India?

Breastfeeding: It is one of the biggest challenges in India as children are not properly breastfed. Breastfeeding helps the child in acquiring antibodies against infections, allergies and protection against several chronic conditions.

  • The WHO and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth and infants should be breastfed for the first six months.
  • According to NFHS 5, there has a been significant improvement in the breastfeeding of the children. The percentage of children breastfed rose from 55 per cent in NFHS 4 to 64 per cent in NFHS 5.
  • NFHS also highlights that only 42 per cent of infants are breastfed within one hour of birth.
  • States such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh have seen above 70 per cent breastfeeding whereas Bihar, Punjab, Kerala are below 50 per cent.

Post-Breastfeeding: There are concerns that children being breastfed for the first six months after the birth continue to be breastfed even after six months without access to nutritional foods.

  • NFHS 5 shows that the improvement has been marginal over the last two reports and states like Maharashtra and Gujarat are way behind.

Unhygienic practices and Lack of awareness: According to an NGO, unhygienic practices followed at the homes are also one of the reasons behind chronic infections and malnutrition.

  • Children eat unhygienic and less nutritious foods and there is also lack of awareness amongst the mothers.

Outcome of Poor nutrition: Poor nutrition in children leads to various diseases and problems such as stunting, wasting, anaemia and low weight.

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