‘Use of locally available food can go a long way in keeping children healthy'
Going local on food consumption is the way to keep children healthy. This simple truth – based as much on traditional wisdom as it is on scientific principle – is the message of the committee set up to address child malnutrition in Karnataka, which has prescribed a “feeding protocol” for children of different age groups, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
The subcommittee on “Health and Nutrition”, one of the three committees constituted by the State Government to address child malnutrition and infant mortality in Karnataka, has observed that one of the problems with food given in anganwadis is that it is “disconnected” from the local food, culture and cuisine.
The 10-member subcommittee has recommended “culture-specific diverse diet.” The State could be divided into six zones for this purpose, taking into account “Karnataka's culinary diversity.”
It says that use of locally available foods and ingredients rich in calories, proteins and micro nutrients – such as unpolished rice, ragi, jowar, pearl millet, other minor millets and locally available fruits – can go a long way in keeping children healthy. It has said that recipes should be easy for the mother/caregiver to learn and follow at home, using affordable ingredients. It says a firm no to packaged food and recommends freshly cooked food rich in dietary fibre and free from trans-fats, with eggs and milk providing supplementary diet.
Suggesting certain institutional mechanisms to help the monitoring process, the committee has suggested re-structuring of the internal nutrition monitoring system of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), with specific protocols at every level, starting with the village anganwadi.
The committee has prescribed a method for assessment of nutritional status of children in anganwadis, including supplying standard weighing apparatus and maintaining database of children who fall below normal range, and adequate referral service.
Emphasising the need of institutional support, the report says that paediatric and community medicine departments of medical colleges should be mandated to support and monitor the management and treatment of severely malnourished children. “It is recommended that for this purpose, the State Government shall enter into specific agreements with medical colleges in all districts within the next one month to expedite the process.”
If every anganwadi centre should provide freshly cooked meals to all those coming there, it obviously needs an increased budgetary allocation. The subcommittee says that the Department of Women and Child Development will have to increase the budgetary allocation per child, and bring it on par with neighbouring States.