Malnutrition and our Society

Malnutrition and our Society

A study by University of Southern California, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, has found that children who are malnourished in the first few years of their life are more likely to be aggressive and antisocial throughout childhood and into their late teens. "Poor nutrition, characterised by zinc, iron, vitamin B and protein deficiencies, leads to low IQ, which leads to later antisocial behaviour. These are all nutrients linked to brain development," said psychology professor and co-author of the study Adrian Raine.

If the study is true, then India has reason to be concerned. According to UNICEF, over a third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. 47 percent children under three years of age are malnourished. If something isn’t done quickly, then it also means that our country will have more than a third of the world’s anti-social elements in a few years’ time.

In spite of the unfavourable statistic, the world has its hopes stuck on India. "With its 400 million children, India holds the key to achieving a quantum leap for children globally. As acknowledged by the international community, India has a leadership role in ensuring the rights and wellbeing of the world’s children," says a UNICEF document. Though UNICEF, along with the Government of India, has malnutrition on the top of its agenda for this country, the responsibility does not end with them. Thankfully, we do have many socially conscious citizens who, individually or as part of a group, often contribute in their own way towards such urgent social causes. Take Poject Aahaar for instance, which is aimed at taking care of malnourished tribal children of a tribal village called Ronakapada at Yeoor Hills. Since July 2004, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, about 75 or so tribal children receive a nutrition-packed meal that included bananas, boiled eggs and Rajgira Laadoos. Bananas and Rajgira are both known for their high nutritional value and eggs are a rich source of protein. What’s interesting is that the eggs are purchased from a tribal woman   and another tribal woman boils them. Both these women are paid for their services and have found a new source of income.

The project, launched   by Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills (IWCTH) with the help of city-based NGO Sevadham, was initiated at the suggestion of Dr Pallavi Bhatt, a paediatrician, who visited the village during a health camp organised by the club and observed that the children living there were malnourished. Quarterly health camps were then augmented with a regular supply of nutrition to the children. So, while the doctors at the health camp checked their height and weight along with a general body check up and provided medicines such as cough syrups, the food distributed ensured that the children remain properly nourished.

At least one specialist accompanies the health camp. So in July it was a dentist who recommended appropriate oral care. IWCTH distributed free toothpaste and toothbrushes too. Then in October, an eye-specialist checked the eyesight of the children. In January, when the next camp is scheduled, an ENT specialist is expected to accompany the volunteers.

On October 29, the IWCTH held its second health camp up under Aahaar. The results of initiating the nutritional supply in July was encouraging. All but three children had gained about one to one and a half kilos in weight. The three who didn’t gain weight didn’t lose it either.

Sarmistha Chowdhury from IWCTH says, "We came to know about this village from Sevadham and we first started only with health camps, where we carry out health check ups and would distribute some food, old clothes and toys for children. When Dr Bhatt accompanied us to the village, she noticed the state of the children, and then suggested that a regular nutritional meal be supplied to them. This is how Project Aahaar was conceived." The funds for the project come from personal contributions of the IWCTH members.

If every city, town and village decided to replicate project Aahaar, soon our country will see a dramatic decline in the prevalence of malnutrition – and perhaps also in number of anti-social cases. We can then expect a more peaceful future.

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