Home >Opinion >Views >Opinion | 2025 nutrition targets call for a multi-dimensional focus

Nutrition is an important gauge to measure a country’s overall development markers such as public health, workforce productivity and economic growth. It deserves to be on the highest priority for governments, industries and public at large. For sustainable development of our nation, it is vital that every person has uninterrupted access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food. A recent United Nations report (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020) highlighted that there are 189.2 million undernourished people in India. Even though this number has declined by 60 million over the past decade, the progress is far too slow. While we recorded a drop in undernourishment, obesity amongst Indian adults grew from 25.2 million in 2012 to 34.3 million in 2016. India is likely to miss the 2025 global nutrition targets according to the Global Nutrition Report 2020, unless more is done, soon.

Leveraging public initiatives to scale up nutrition

Nutrition received the much-needed attention from the Indian government in 2018 with the launch of the POSHAN Abhiyan, converging all existing programs to improve the nutritional status of pregnant women, mothers and children. The government mainstreamed nutrition, with this multi-ministerial and multi-sectoral approach, bringing together several programs such as National Rural Health Mission, Mid-Day meals, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and others to improve nutrition intake in India . The success lies in following an outcome based approach to ensure all the benefits under these interventions are delivered to mothers and children within the first 1000 days, setting the base for healthier lives.

Food fortification is another effective way to deliver micronutrients to Indian masses, through existing food delivery systems such as mid-day meals and the public distribution system. Regulators have already been promoting fortification in food products like salt, edible oil, milk, rice and wheat flour to improve nutritional content. Going forward, we will see more and more food products and crops getting covered and focus will rightly move towards the quality of fortification.

Innovation to spur progress towards goals

With India set to become the third-largest consumer economy by 2025, and with the post cov-19 magnification of focus on health and safety, it is crucial for the food and beverage industry to make nutrition an integral part of their strategy. Healthier ingredients, fortification, reformulation to reduce saturated and trans-fat content and optimize sugar and sodium content, launch of immunity boosting product variants by the industry is already commonplace across urban markets. This will soon permeate to rural markets with launch of smaller packs, affordable pricing and increased awareness amongst consumers. Factors such as product taste, convenience, shelf life, and price – all of which determine consumption – are also important elements that ensure higher intake of nutritious products by consumers everywhere. This calls for more innovation. Innovation in product, pricing, technology, digitalization, and research and development by food companies. This holds the key to improving the nutritional profiles of their products, thereby accelerating progress towards national nutrition goals in the long term.

Raising nutritional awareness

Solving the problem of malnourishment has to start with awareness. In rural areas, general nutritional awareness has historically been lower, even some misconceptions around health of pregnant women, mothers and children; triggering deficiencies like underweight, anemia and stunting amongst women and children. And in urban areas even though people are generally more aware of nutritional components of various food items and have access to balanced diets in terms of energy, protein, micronutrient and vitamin rich food, a large percentage still consumes excess sugar and salt, leads sedentary lifestyles coupled with lack of exercise, resulting in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure. Consumers everywhere need to be better educated about nutritional benefits of common food items and the importance of including them in regular diet. This can be done effectively through government led awareness campaigns and healthy public food distribution initiatives, industry acting responsibly with respect to production and marketing of food products as well as self-regulation by consumers themselves.

Good nutrition is the best investment we can make in human capital. It has the power to drive sustainable economic growth for India. Countries that have implemented efficient nutrition systems, made significant gains in reducing prevalence of malnutrition have reaped the benefits of doing so. Therefore, raising the nutritional status of our population should be at the forefront of all development plans if we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, to which India is a signatory.

The author is managing director of Cargill’s oil business in India. Views expressed are his own.

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