New Delhi: Pregnant and breastfeeding women in rural India prefer supplementary food over free health check-ups and nutritional information provided by anganwadis, or mother and child care centres.

Under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme run by the ministry of women and child development, pregnant and lactating mothers are entitled to receive food cooked and served at anganwadis on a daily basis or take home food provisions. The centres also monitor the health of women during pregnancy and breastfeeding and provide them with health and nutritional education.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) recently released by the ministry of health and family welfare said the percentage of women receiving supplementary food during pregnancy and breastfeeding is higher in almost all states than the percentage receiving health check-ups or health and nutrition education.

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“Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were more likely to have received supplementary food than health check-ups or health and nutrition education. The services during pregnancy and breastfeeding were utilized more for births to women in rural areas than in urban areas," the survey report said.

The survey highlighted that across India over 51.5% pregnant women received supplementary food from anganwadis compared with 42.9% who availed free health check-ups and 38.5% who received health and nutrition education. When it came to breastfeeding women, 47.5% received supplementary food, 37.1% received health check-ups and only 35% received health and nutrition education.

“Previous surveys done by us on health indicators suggest that women and children suffer from a high degree of malnutrition, underlining the lack of essential civic amenities and basic health facilities in the slums," said Arup Mitra, professor of economics at the Institute of Economic Growth. “Women and children (within five years of age) suffer the most mainly because of their greater biological vulnerability."

“The problem of healthcare and food is glaring when it comes to low-income households, especially slums. Women in slums are subjected to unhygienic conditions and impoverished situations which make their life more challenging and problematic. When a service is perceived as beneficial, families are seen to access it, even at times going against the cultural and social practices."

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