Almost all adolescents in India take unhealthy or poor diets leading to one or the other form of malnutrition in them, revealed a UNCIEF report released on Thursday in association with NITI Aayog. Over 50% of adolescents ((about 63 million girls and 81 million boys)) in the age group of 10 to 19 years in India are, short, thin, overweight or obese, the report said.
It also said that over 80% of adolescents also suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, i.e. the deficiency of one or more micronutrients such as iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
The report, ‘Adolescents, Diets and Nutrition: Growing Well in a Changing World’, is based on the recently released Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS).
The CNNS data set provides new insights into all types of macronutrient and micronutrient malnutrition, dietary habits, life skill behaviours, access to services (school, health and nutrition) and physical activity throughout adolescence (10-19 years) for both girls and boys.
“Fruits and eggs are consumed daily by less than 10% of boys and girls. Over 25% of adolescents reported no consumption of green leafy vegetables even once a week. Milk products are consumed by only 50% percent of adolescents daily," the report said.
Highlighting that 10 to 19-year-olds in every Indian state face an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, the report said that growing incomes and increased spending on food has translated to greater consumption of fried foods, junk foods, sweets and aerated drinks.
The report found that adolescent girls especially suffer multiple nutritional deprivations. While more girls suffer from shortness than boys, anaemia affects 40% of adolescent girls, compared to 18% of boys, and worsens as they get older. The report stated that focusing on adolescent girls, before they become mothers, is critical to break India’s intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
In addition to the nutritional status of adolescents, the report also revealed that government nutritional schemes are not reaching the adolescents. “Nearly 25% of girls and boys do not receive any of the four school-based services (mid-day meal, biannual health check-ups, biannual deworming and weekly iron folic acid supplementation). Addressing this gap will be critical to addressing early adolescent nutrition issues," the report said.
According to the report, physical activity is also missing amongst the adolescents. “All girls and boys are unable to meet the 60 minutes per day recommended outdoor sports and exercise time. On an average, girls in late adolescence spend only 10 minutes per day on such activities. Boys do relatively better, with exercise time of 40 to 50 minutes per day," the report said.
“We must take action where adolescent children spend most of their time — on school premises. For example, this means moving from a cereal-based mid-day meal in schools, to meals that are more nutrient-dense. In addition to iron and folic-acid supplementation, we need to do more to provide diets balanced with proteins and adequate calories. As consumption of fruits and vegetables among adolescents remains poor, providing nutrition counseling for young people to make the right food choices is one critical step we can take. We also call for legislation to regulate the market ing of unhealthy foods in school premises — marketing that often leads young people into making poor food choices," Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director said.
“We must work with academia to tap into the growing expertise in nutrition, diets and agriculture. We call for more private sector investment and engagement in adolescent nutrition," said Fore.