BENGALURU:You do not expect to see malnutrition in private schools that teach children from comfortably-off families. But a recent survey conducted by AddressHealth, a Bengaluru-based primary healthcare network that collects data from private schools, found that nearly 30% of the children are malnourished.
Nearly 60% of Bengaluru’s 24 lakh school-going children are in private schools.
Malnourishment is both overnourishment and undernourishment and, in the city’s schools, the network found 20.7 percent children to be obese and 8.8 percent to be underweight. While obesity or overnourishment was expected, what came as a surpise was the prevalence of undernutrition among children from upper-class families.
AddressHealth has been surveying children in private schools every year since 2011, in a process similar to the government’s Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram. This year the survey was conducted in over 100 private schools of the city and examining 1.3 lakh children from affordable to expensive private schools.
Dr Anand Lakshman, CEO of AddressHealth, says, “Obesity is prevalent among 11 per cent of the children and we found out that, in affordable private schools, roughly 15 per cent are too thin and, in more expensive private schools, 5 per cent were undernourished. We call this striking phenomenon a dual burden of malnutrition.”
Paediatrician Dr Yogesh Kumar Gupta says, “There are underweight children in higher-income groups because of genetics or because the parents are not well educated. It could also be that the child is a fussy eater,” he says.
Parents or Schools?
Lakshmi is the mother of Abhinav, a first standard student at a high-end private school. She says that children are malnourished because parents are poorly informed. “They do not know what makes for nutritious food,” she says. “I have heard that school canteens also do not serve healthy food. My son has not used the school canteen and I am not keen on him using it either.”
But Jaya Hiremath, who is the director of Pratham International School, says that their school’s canteen stepped up when they found parents were being irresponsible with the lunches. “Our school is in the rural part of the city,” she says, “and we have observed that the lunch children bring to school is not healthy... In our canteen, we make it a point to serve healthy food such as chapatti, twice a week.”
Dr Yogesh says that food taboos also can lead to undernourishment. “It is not just the lower-income families that have food taboos,” he says. “Even parents from the higher income groups believe that if their child is suffering from diarrhea, he or she should be kept away from certain foods such as tender coconut. But hydration is important... parents should be educated enough to do away with such taboos.”
Bharath Kumar B N, principal of Aditi Public School, says that reduced physical activity is one of the primary reasons for malnourishment. “Parents do not let their child play outdoors because of lack of space or fear,” he says. “Even when we conduct physical activities, parents object saying their children complain of pain.”
While it was found out that 17.2 per cent on children in higher income schools are more at risk of lifestyle-related diseases, 14.5 per cent in affordable private schools are undernourished.
The schools that took part in the survey were classified into three groups -- ones with fees less than `15,000 p.a, schools with fees between `15,000 and `45,000 and those with school fees above `45,000.