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Under nutrition in India remains a challenge owing to misconceptions about diet

Posted:  Wednesday, December 16, 2015

False dietary beliefs are at the crux of the growing problem of malnutrition in India. The Rapid Survey on Children conducted in 2013 and 2014 by the United Nations and the Indian government indicated that about 30% of under-5 children in India are underweight.

Malnutrition can manifest in various forms such as underweight (low weight for age), stunting (low height for age) or wasting (low weight for height). Protein, vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiencies account for the major nutritional problems among Indian children with protein deficiency as the most prevalent form of malnutrition. Tribal children are more likely to face multiple deficiencies.

Malnutrition leads to impaired physical, neurological and immunological development. This diminishes the individual productivity as well as performance, which can cumulatively lead to an adverse impact on the country’s socio-economic development. However, there are various interventions for ameliorating the impact of malnutrition.

Optimal infant and young child feeding practices such as timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life and timely introduction of complementary foods at six months are the key aspects in curtailing malnutrition. However, there are various inappropriate practices pertaining to nutrition such as:

Discarding colostrum

Not initiating breastfeeding immediately after birth

Dilution of formula/animal milk (believed to be easily digested)

Provision of foods lacking appropriate the consistency and energy density

Feeding inadequate amounts

Unhygienic feeding practices

Tendency to dismiss breastfeeding and child-rearing practices

Malnutrition is mainly attributed to misconceptions and false dietary beliefs. It is important to tackle the detrimental beliefs and contravening cultural practices for controlling the menace of malnutrition. Dr. Shreekant Chorghade, a noted paediatrician, emphasised this when he said, “Inappropriate feeding practices are closely related to cultures and beliefs. Socio-cultural factors play an important role, it affects the attitude of the caregiver in feeding and care practices.”

Malnutrition refers to undernutrition as well as overnutrition. Overweight and obesity is common among children from the economically rich strata of the society, due to high carbohydrate and fat intake. Consequently, the battle against malnutrition can be won only if the inappropriate dietary habits are curbed.

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