By Lindsey Peugh, Research Associate – ICTPH
Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are widespread across India. The National Family Health Survey-3 found that half of young children who are underweight or stunted (low height for age caused by chronic insufficient nutrient intake or frequent infections) are moderately or severely anaemic. Children in rural areas are 40 percent more likely to be underweight than children in urban areas, and 7 out of 10 children aged 6-59 months are anaemic. Our own baseline survey in Thanjavur district showed similar trends. The Economist explicates the situation in this week’s edition, pointing out the far reaching impacts of malnutrition in India which spans across all levels of socioeconomic status. In order to achieve a key target of the Millennium Development Goal 1 (to halve the number of children suffering from malnutrition) before the 2015 deadline, action must be taken and ICTPH intends to do just that.
I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), a world-renowned research center, in Hyderabad, where I met with Dr. A. Laxmaiah, Deputy Director of the Division of Community Studies. An expert in the field of community-based nutrition interventions, Dr. Laxmaiah provided me with guidance on developing a nutrition program in Thanjavur to address malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies among the population.
Initially the program will target children aged 6-24 months, a critical period during which malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies can cause serious and irreversible effects on a child’s growth and development. Through our network of SughaVazhvu Guides, the program intends to deliver nutritional supplements at the household level along with education for caregivers on proper feeding practices for their children. As Dr. Laxmaiah affirmed, the next six months will be busy with program design activities to ensure an evidence-based approach.
Realising the connections between maternal nutrition, child nutrition, and population health, we eventually intend to expand the program to take a long-term, lifestyle approach to improve health and nutrition. With the United Nations’ announcement of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health at the MDG Summit last week, now is the time to prioritise high-impact strategies to do just that. Stay tuned for updates from the field as we take our own steps towards tackling hunger, poverty, and ill-health in rural India.