To unlock the full potential of India’s future, we have to prioritise the health and nutrition of its adolescent girls.
The Nutrition problem:
Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to undernutrition and anaemia due to the onset of menstruation.
The findings of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) confirm these concerns, as a staggering 1% of adolescent girls were found to be anaemic.
With the NFHS-4 numbers also having reported over 9% of school-going girls as underweight, the numbers showcase a worrying trend.
A recent report from Asia shows that malnutrition reduces human productivity by 10 percent to 15 percent and gross domestic product by 5 percent to 10 percent.
By improving the nutrition of adolescent girls and women, nations can reduce health care costs, increase intellectual capacity, and improve adult productivity.
Nutrition criteria for girls:
Nutritional guidelines for adolescents state that girls need an average of 2,200 calories per day.
Around 25% of the total energy should come from fats, and less than 10% of the energy should come from saturated fats.
Adolescents also require about 50 grams of protein every day.
Existing Government schemes for adolescent girls:
‘SABLA ‘Scheme stands for Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and it aims to empower adolescent girls (AGs) aged 11 to 18 years old through nutrition, health care, and life skills education.
It is a centrally sponsored program launched by the Government of India in 2011 under the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The SABLA scheme has two main components - Nutrition and Non-Nutrition.
Need for better interventions:
Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition because they are growing faster than at any time after their first year of life.
They need protein, iron, and other micronutrients to support the adolescent growth spurt and meet the body's increased demand for iron during menstruation.
Reasons for malnourishment of girls:
Lack of knowledge in the family and community about the importance of nutrition during adolescence
Lack of food because of socio-economic circumstances
Inequitable distribution of food in the family wherein girls being denied nutritious food
Poor dietary intake of food and vegetables rich in iron
Diseases like Malaria
Perpetuation of a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection, which might begin, even before birth and may have more serious consequences for the girl child.
Implications of less-Nutrient based diets:
Iron deficiency and anemia cause fatigue, reduce work capacity, and make people more susceptible to infection.
Severe anemia places women at higher risk of death during delivery and the period following childbirth.
Recent research suggests that even mild anaemia puts women at greater risk of death.
Illnesses associated with nutrient deficiencies have significantly reduced the productivity of women in less developed countries.
Other problems can be:
Low Birth Weight
Even mild maternal malnutrition can impair foetal development.
A few strategic modifications to existing interventions can significantly expand the scope of its outcomes.
Merger of schemes: The convergence of various government initiatives such as the Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG) within the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition programme (POSHAN) 2.0 is a step in the right direction, provided it is implemented effectively.
Targeted adolescent-oriented schemes such as the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) could include even stronger awareness and nutrition education programmes that would help sustain beneficiary compliance.
Routine training of health workers for effective implementation and monitoring of various schemes, and to adapt with an evolving landscape, is also a crucial step in this process.