BANGALORE: Schoolchildren are facing a significant deficit in nutrition in the mid-day meals they consume, an evaluation commissioned by the state government on the scheme has found. Quality issues in the raw materials used to cook these meals is another major problem.
The Centre for Symbiosis of Technology, Environment and Management (STEM), which has submitted its evaluation report to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), has found a gap in nutrition — calories, proteins and fats — received by schoolchildren as against the norms specified under the scheme.
Kids from Classes 1-5 who need 491 kilocalories are getting only 409.54 kcal. Among higher primary and high school students, the gap is wider, with the former getting 468.69 and the latter getting 490.53 against a requirement of 728.35 kcal. Protein and fat consumption also falls short of the prescribed norms, STEM researchers have found.
The evaluation, which covered 4,886 kids in 465 schools in all districts, has also found the use of raw materials of unknown quality. About 53.51 per cent of cooks and 21.1 per cent of NGOs said they used oil that does not have the Agmark certification.
Dr Sara Atheeqh Khan, consultant dietitian, Centre for Human Genetics, said that consuming oil not certified by ISI (Bureau of Indian Standards) or Agmark could lead to health problems. “Only labelled packets should be picked up, otherwise we may not know the authenticity of the oil,” she said. More than half of the children evaluated suffer from mild to severe stunting (physical growth impediment).
About 9 per cent of the kids surveyed are anaemic in various degrees. “Shortcomings in the mid-day meals cannot be blamed for these health conditions. Although there is a proven lack of nutrition, the scheme only acts as a supplement to what kids eat at home,” said Mohammed Mohsin, commissioner for public instruction.
The mid-day meal scheme covers 61.40 lakh children and both the state and central governments spent `978.8 crore last year on it.
Many kids are also falling short of iodine, an element required for physical and mental development, as 28.31 per cent of cooks said that they used ordinary (non-iodized) salt for preparing the meals, which include sambar, pulao, chitranna and bisi bele bath.
If there is no iodine in salt, it makes kids dull and inactive, overweight, unable to tolerate cold with low mental alertness, said Dr Madhuri, paediatrician at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health.
The Iron and Folic Acid Programme, launched in April last year by the Health Department, is also not up to the mark. The evaluation found that schools across the state are facing a shortage in the supply of iron and folic acid tablets. The report said that of the required 108 tablets per student in a year, the quantity actually reaching the student is only around 66. Dr Khan also added that double fortified salt is most beneficial for growing children as it addresses their iodine and iron requirements. “They are critical micronutrients for the mental capacity of children that may determine their academic performance.”
P Virupakshi, project coordinator at STEM, said the reason behind this was logistical delays.
“Schools have no choice but to manage with the available stocks. When they do not have enough, the tablets available per student automatically goes down,” he said. This is the third evaluation of the scheme, which was preceded by a review conducted by Rama K Naik, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (2005), and PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008).