Malnutrition and not Obesity is India’s biggest health challenge for the 21st century


Obesity is one aspect that is heavily covered in media in India. There are numerous reports on how the ‘Fight against Fat’is the paradigm shift in Indian public health policy. Obesity has been linked to heart diseases, diabetes and hypertension. And the information is all correct.

But I believe in a country of a billion people plus a problem affecting 50-60 million people is hardly the concern. Lets take the case of diabetes for example, the situation today affects about 50 million people with another 30-40 million undetected cases.

But India’s greatest challenge is malnutrition. yes did i hear it right, it is Malnutrition. So all those basic biology classes on balanced diet are the need of the hour for India.

According to a report by the UN and the World Bank, India is ranked second in the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The other country ahead of us is Bangladesh. Almost 47 % of the children in India are affecting by this disease.

Another alarming statistic is that India has about 150 million children contributing almost 18 % of the population. Also four children die every minute from preventable diseases like diarrhea, Measles and Typhoid which are usually more severe due to the prevalent malnutrition.

The icing on the cake is the 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) where India is ranked 67. Some of the other countries on the list are very small and poorer than us, but still have shown improvement. Sri Lanka for example has a index score of 14, while India lands an alarming 23.7. Even Niger has a score of 23.

But Media and industry continue to focus on obesity. The reasons are very simple. The obese population are also the ones with higher disposable income and hence a good target market for these companies.

In the days since liberalization Gyms, Clinics, Supplements and diets have grown manifold. A recent quest for a personal instructor by my wife saw numerous coaches show up at our doorstep, some with their own assistants.

But what about the hungry kids? This situation of malnutrition is leading to be a stumbling block to India’s progress in the long run with disease, disability and economic backwardness on the horizon for almost 20 % of India;s future.

There are a few steps that we can take.

Encourage the mid day meal schemes started by some of the government schools. The novel idea was the brainchild of the former Tamilnadu chief minister M G Ramachandran. This resulted in increased literacy and also improved nourishment.

Contribute to institutions like Akshay Patra. The Akshay Patra foundation has been the leading voice on nutrition. They run schemes to feed under privileged children.

Thirdly encourage the local community programs on nutrition. A good place is to start with the focus on domestic helps and their wards ensuring they have a balanced diet and educate them on it as well.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for the malnutrition issue. It is a deep socio-economic problem but a beginning has to be made somewhere and it is better to start late rather than not start at all.

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

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