Proper nutrition among children is the harbinger of progress in the state. When children grow up with the right kind of nutrition from very early stages of childhood, it paves the path for healthy sustained growth with high levels of immunity. It validates the understanding that good health leads to a good, active mind and body.
However, the Arogya Nandana campaign conducted across Karnataka primarily to identify children with comorbidities and provide nutrition to improve their immunity in the face of the pandemic found that among 53,82,106 children who were screened, 1,15,660 were diagnosed with illness. There are a total of 1.5 crore children in the state.
The children were screened for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM), diabetes, chronic kidney failure, chronic lung disease, chronic liver disease, blood disorders and cancer.
Up to 1,12,389 children were found to be malnourished. While 7,259 children suffered from SAM, 1,04,790 children suffered from MAM. Haveri topped the list with the maximum number of children with SAM, while Belagavi had the highest number of children with MAM.
Experts say many pockets of Karnataka are still dealing with malnutrition, with Covid-19 having made it worse. They highlight the need for closely tracking children and ensuring that the right kind of food reaches them.
In Karnataka, the Midday Meal Scheme (MMS) is being implemented across the state with nutritional value of the food set out in the scheme’s guidelines and systems to ensure diversification of food for children.
MMS Senior Assistant Director Manjunath SC says, “Every day, we have a different type of food, the rice is fortified with folic acid, iron, zinc and Vitamin B-12 and A. We use iodised salt and fortified oil. Those who eat eggs get it twice a week with their meal, while vegetarians are given bananas or chikki. Otherwise, the regular menu includes rice, sambar, bisibele bath, pulao, rasam and sabji, this changes depending on the day. For sambar and sabji, we make sure that different vegetables are used on each day, and also that nutrition needs are met. On Saturdays, we use wheat products to make meals, like chapati, and also give payasam,” he said.
Schools also provide iron and folic acid tablets weekly to the children to ensure they don’t develop any deficiencies, he says. And yet, more needs to be done. State unit secretary of Samajika Parivartana Janandola working for child rights, Vithal Chikani, says nutrition level of children in Raichur, Yadgir and Kalaburagi districts of Kalyana Karnataka region still lags behind, compared to other districts of the State.
He says the government has taken steps to distribute eggs and bananas to children in schools. Initially, it was taken up in six districts of Kalyana Karnataka in the last quarter of 2021-22. Karnataka State Rural Development University conducted a study about the impact of providing eggs and bananas to schoolchildren in Yadgir district. The study was conducted only in a few pockets, showing a slight improvement in nutrition levels in schoolchildren of Yadgir. The study needs to be conducted in a comprehensive manner, says Chikani, adding that it should be done in consultation with nutrition experts.
Mysuru district administration has set a target to make the district free of malnutrition by 2023. Women and Child Welfare department deputy director D Basavaraju says, “Malnutrition is still not eradicated completely in the district. There are 140 SAM children and 2,651 MAM children.”
The department, in association with city-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), has taken up nutrition intervention aimed at improving the nutritional status of children with SAM. These children will be given six types of nutritional supplements, including spirulina, chikki, high-protein rusk and biscuits along with eggs and milk, five days a week.
Veena Vivekananda, deputy director of the department, Udupi district, says there are 58 kids (aged six months to six years) who are suffering from SAM in Udupi. She says cases among children of migrant labourers are more; however, due to genetic and medical reasons, too, some kids face malnutrition issues.
There are over 300 kids with MAM in the district. Through the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), their condition is being improved with intervention by dietitians. Such centres are operating in Kundapur and Karkala taluks, and one in Udupi should be functional soon, she says.
Under Poshan Abhiyaan, a synergised and result-oriented approach is the focus. Seedlings are grown and sprouted seeds distributed to 340 of 1,191 anganwadi centres in the district.
Rahul Shinde, CEO of Zilla Panchayat, Vijayapura, says, “Before providing eggs, bananas and other nutritious food in schools, many students had nutrition deficit. Now, there are hardly any students with complaints of poor nutrition, as over 80 per cent of the children across the district consume eggs.”
EARLY BEGINNING CRUCIAL
Poor diet in early childhood can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients – such as Vitamin A deficiency, which weakens children’s immunity, increases their risk of blindness and can even lead to death from common childhood diseases like diarrhoea.
While the MMS aims at children in the school-going age group, it is crucial to ensure adequate nutrition for kids in the first six months of life and more importantly from birth. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, in the first two years of life, breastfeeding saves lives, shields children from disease, boosts brain development and guarantees children a safe and nutritious food source.
UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that infants begin breastfeeding within an hour of birth, be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and continue being breastfed until two years of age or beyond.
At the age of six months, children need to begin eating their first solid foods. Young children should be fed frequently and in adequate quantities throughout the day, and their meals must be nutrient-dense and comprise a variety of food groups. Caregivers should prepare and feed meals with clean hands and dishes, and interact with the child to respond to hunger signals.
Young children’s diets frequently comprise grains, with little fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, fish or meat. Many are increasingly being fed sugary drinks and packaged snacks high in salt, sugar and fat, says UNICEF. “We need to educate parents to provide a nutritive value-based diet that is easily available in every home. It has to be prepared exclusively for children. Besides, there needs to be emphasis on protein, micronutrients and calorie based food for children in school. De-worming children at regular intervals is important, too. Regular checks on height-weight and age development needs to be conducted,” says Dr Rajesh Suragihalli, district health and family welfare officer, Shivamogga.
Inputs from: Donna Eva/Bengaluru; BK Lakshmikantha/Mysuru; Prakash Samaga/Udupi; Ramachandra Gunari/ Shivamogga; Mahesh Goudar/Bagalkot/Vijayapura; Ramkrishna Badseshi/Kalaburagi; Tushar Majikar/Belagavi; Divya Cutinho/Mangaluru.