The National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5) provides information on population, health, and nutrition for each state and Union Territory.
According to the government, NFHS-5 data will be useful in setting benchmarks and examining the progress of the health sector over time. Besides it provides evidence for the effectiveness of ongoing programmes especially in identifying the need for new programmes with an area specific focus and identifying groups that are most in need of essential services.
Highlighting a key gap in child nutrition, NFHS-5 found that 89 per cent of children between the formative ages of 6-23 months do not receive a ‘minimum acceptable diet’. It looked at an adequate diet for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding children till they reached two years.
The survey found that 88.9 per cent of children between 6-23 months, who are breastfeeding, did not receive adequate diet in 2019-2020. Also 87.3 per cent of non-breastfeeding children in this category did not receive adequate nutrition in 2019-21, up from 85.7 per cent in 2015-16.
The survey found that access to the minimum acceptable diet in this category of children is higher in urban areas (12.1 per cent) than rural areas (10.7 per cent).
According to experts, a deficient diet in the first 1000 days has huge effects on cognitive ability, including sensory and language capabilities.
As per some experts, important cognitive development takes place at this stage, affecting the child’s IQ later on and cognitive development, with 80 per cent brain growth taking place by two years. If children don’t get an adequate diet, the experts fear that growth is going to be faltering and height affected. It can also have an impact on increased anaemia.
66% children in the age group of 6-59 months have anaemia, which is higher than the NFHS-4 estimate of 59 per cent. 36% of children under age five years are stunted (short for their age); 19 per cent are wasted (thin for their height); 32 per cent are underweight (thin for their age).
The WHO defines ten essential food groups which include cereals and millets, pulses, milk and milk products, roots and tubers, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, fat or oil, fish, egg and other meats and sugar. Out of which 4-5 every day are required for a child to prevent malnutrition.
The survey should make policymakers revisit various parameters and devise policy that ensures all children get the proper diet to prevent malnutrition.