Healthy meals for school children
When the Global Hunger Index (GHI) rankings were released earlier this month, the nation watched as India slipped from 101st in 2021 to 107th this year out of 121 countries.
GHI points are in the foundational age group (up to 5 years) of the nation’s population and do not refer to the total population. In addition, one of the statistics used to draw conclusions about India is the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).
A quick look at NFHS-5 released in 2021 reveals that Goa’s encounter with childhood nutrition is not worthy of praise.
The proportion of stunted children increased from 20% in the 2016 NFHS-4 to 26%, indicating that they had been undernourished for some time. However, in the same period, the proportion of wasting children decreased from 22% to 19%. Referring to children who are too thin for their height, which may result from recent inadequate eating or a recent illness that has caused weight loss, and 8% have severe wasting.
While the percentage of underweight children remained virtually unchanged in the four years between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5. Just under a quarter, 24% of children are underweight, which takes into account both chronic and acute undernutrition.
The NFHS-5 report indicates that differences in levels of undernourishment in Goa, are relatively high for rural children compared with urban children and for male children compared with female children on all three measures of nutritional status.
The government should have read this as a clear health warning that persistent high levels of undernourishment remain a major problem in Goa.
Despite government “double-engine” reports issuing health warnings, Goans have not seen any drastic action from the government to ensure a healthier childhood. Additionally, a mid-day meal planner that compensates in certain ways for losses also faces hurdles.
The recent threat by self-help groups and Mahila Mandals to halt the provision of midday meals when schools reopen after the Diwali holidays is a wake-up call for citizens to question the government’s priorities.
The Herald reports that nearly 2,000 students in Canacona’s inland villages have not had midday meals since October 1, after the government changed the menu.
A proposal to introduce an egg once a week into the list has been pending since 2020. While the last two academic years are almost over due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with offline classes starting across the state since June of this year, it has been The suggestion to add an egg should be implemented.
In September, the Education Director informed that new dishes such as mixed vegetable mix and mixed vegetable pulao, chole chapati, vegan korma and potato bhaji will be introduced. A welcome move that would have ensured that children who were unable to afford nutritious meals at home were reimbursed in schools.
However, when the nation as a whole suffers from inflation, the Ministry of Finance puts the blame on a proposal to increase the allowances per child from Rs 6.11 to Rs 8 per child in the pre-primary and primary category and Rs 10 for upper primary schools.
The arm of the government operating under the leadership of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who is also the Minister of Education, should have approved the proposal immediately and ensured immediate implementation.
However, it has been noted that one of the challenges in implementing the mid-day meal scheme in Goa is the lack of introspection and accountability. No social audit of the program is conducted and the district-level Steering and Monitoring Committee, chaired by the District Collector, rarely meets to ensure accountability.
When a quarter of children in the state have been underweight for nearly two decades (NFHS-3, 2006), the only way out for the government is to take corrective measures and ensure that at least the last part of a child’s growing years compensates for undernutrition, especially micronutrients .
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