The Covid-19 pandemic has likely “aggravated the silent crisis” of undernutrition in India, an inter-ministerial committee has observed, recommending that protein-rich foods like eggs, nuts and pulses, as well as micronutrients like calcium , iron, zinc, folate and vitamin A be legally required in meals given under food safety programs in schools and Anganwadis by revising Schedule II of the National Food Safety Act (NFSA ) of 2013.
The inter-ministerial committee includes officials from the Ministry of Food, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women and Child Development and Ministry of Education, as well as scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Currently, eggs are served at midday meals in 13 states and three UTs as part of “supplementary food items.” It is served with a frequency varying from five days a week to once a month. States and UTs bear the cost of the supplementary service. The inclusion of eggs in food safety nets has faced opposition from many religious groups as well as chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh.
The committee suggested that “urgent action” is needed to deal with the crisis, citing the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), which documented an increase in “rates of undernutrition, stunting and wasting among children in most states”, as well as an increase in the prevalence of anemia among pregnant women and those of childbearing age. The draft report, submitted in October 2021, is currently being reviewed by the Centre.
“Although the NFSA has been in place since 2013, the desired results have not yet been achieved. NFHS-5 survey results show a worrying trend of increasing malnutrition and anemia in many states…persistent levels of undernutrition despite rapid economic growth remain the biggest public health concern in India,” the report said, adding, “The pandemic is only likely to aggravate the silent crisis and urgent action is needed.”
It recommended new standards for kilocalories and protein per meal, as well as the setting of the proposed intake of micronutrients for all categories of beneficiaries and the food products necessary to reach these standards. While the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program covers children aged six months to six years and pregnant/breastfeeding mothers, students in lower primary, upper primary grades in public and government-subsidized schools government are beneficiaries of the PM Poshan program.
According to the financial implications of the recommendations drawn up by the committee, the cost per meal (excluding milk and fruit) in the lower primary classes will be Rs 9.6 and Rs 12.1 in the upper primary classes. Currently, the kitchen fee is Rs 4.97 and Rs 7.45 respectively. The report says those who don’t eat eggs can get “double the suggested amount of nuts and seeds.”
Call for change in the NFSA
Schedule II of the National Food Security Act establishes nutrition standards for government food security programs such as Midday Meal, PM Poshan and Integrated Child Development Services Program. Currently, it quantifies nutrition per meal in terms of calories and protein only, but the interdepartmental panel has called for micronutrients to be considered as well.
Here are some of the existing and proposed standards:
Lower primary classes: Current standards call for 100g of food grains, 20g of pulses, 50g of vegetables (including leafy varieties), 5g of oil/fat, plus salt and condiments (as needed) per meal and per child, which represents 450 kilocalories and 12 g of protein.
The proposal calls for 70 g of cereals and millets, 25 g of pulses and pulses, 75 g of vegetables (including 50 g of leafy varieties), 10 g of nuts and seeds, 10 g of oil and 50 g of eggs, which will provide 450 kilocalories, 15-20 g of protein, 170 mg of calcium, 2 mg of zinc, 3.5 mg of iron, 50 micrograms of folate and 100 micrograms of vitamin A. As additional elements, 150 g of milk and 100 g of fruit have been suggested.
Upper primary classes: According to existing standards, 150 g of food grains, 30 g of pulses, 75 g of vegetables (including a leafy variety), 7.5 g of oil/fat, as well as salt and seasonings (as needed ) are served per meal, which represents 700 kilocalories and 20 g of protein. .
The proposal calls for 100 g of cereals and millets, 35 g of legumes and pulses, 100 g of vegetables (including 50 g of leafy varieties), 15 g of nuts and seeds, 10 g of oil and 50 g of eggs, which will provide 700 kilocalories, 22-25 g of protein, 270 mg of calcium, 4 mg of zinc, 5.5 mg of iron, 75 micrograms of folate and 145 micrograms of vitamin A. As additional elements, 200 g of milk and 100 g of fruit were suggested.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women: According to existing standards, beneficiaries are entitled to 600 kilocalories and 18 to 20 g of protein per meal in the form of a take-home ration or THR. The draft report proposes that the nutritional values be revised to 600 kcal, 22-25 g protein, minimum 335 mg calcium, 4 mg zinc, 7 mg iron, 160 micrograms folate and 240 micrograms vitamin A.
Anganwadi children (6 months-3 years): Currently they are allowed 500 kilocalories and 12-15g of protein per THR meal. The suggested values are 400 kcal, 15-20 g of protein, minimum 135 mg of calcium, 1 mg of zinc, 2 mg of iron, 35 micrograms of folate and 60 micrograms of vitamin A.
Anganwadi children (3-6 years old): Currently entitled to 500 kilocalories and 12-15g protein per THR meal. The suggested values are 400 kcal, 15-20 g of protein, minimum 150 mg of calcium, 1.5 mg of zinc, 3 mg of iron, 40 micrograms of folate and 80 micrograms of vitamin A.