Malnutrition main risk for disease in Indian children.

• Unicef report highlights insufficient nutrients and lack of diversity in country’s diet

• 61% of children, adolescents and mothers consume dairy products at least once a week


Deficiency in vitamins and other essential nutrients arising from unhealthy diets is the main risk factor for several diseases among Indian children, a Unicef report said. The report also pointed to the prevalence of anaemia, insufficient protein intake and changing dietary preferences in the country.

Nearly 80% Indian babies aged 6 to 23 months do not receive minimum dietary diversity, said the State of the World’s Children 2019, a food and nutrition report released by Unicef on Wednesday. While only 61% of children, adolescents and mothers consume dairy products at least once a week, only around 40% children, adolescents and mothers consume fruits at least once a week. Over 85% children (5 to 9 years) and adolescents, and 75% mothers, consume pulses and dark green leafy vegetables at least once a week, according to the report.

The report pointed to poor calorie share of fruits and vegetables, and a substantial lack of diet based on milk and milk products, as the country’s diet continues to be cereal-based.

“A cereal-based diet does not meet the caloric composition of a healthy diet. Intake of protein-based calories is negligible, and its intake share remains unchanged in the last two decades. Increasing income shows correspondingly high increments in fat intake but not protein intake. Intake of eggs and other protein sources is low across income groups," the report said.

The report highlighted that access to diverse, micronutrient rich foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses and nuts has not improved equally for everyone. Although a typical Indian family spends the bulk of its income on food, poor families tend to select low-quality foods that cost less, the report said. It also said the marketing of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages have changed Indian dietary preferences. Also, there is an increasing availability of inexpensive, high calorie foods that have been replacing local, often healthier, diets.

“When healthy options are available and these are affordable and desirable, then children and families make better food choices. Children’s nutrition will improve significantly if there is an increase in the production and processing of healthy foods to deliver nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for all children," said Yasmin Haque, Unicef Representative in India.

Just as the government’s recent Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey, the report found that one in five (18%) children younger under the age of five have vitamin A deficiency, which is a moderate to severe public health problem across 20 states. Every second woman in India is anaemic, with anaemia most prevalent in children under five (40.5%). (Source: Livemint)

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