From the maw of the Indian state there has emerged an undigested piece of development cake: nutritionally speaking, people's diets are out of joint. The nutritional value of the food people consume daily today is alarmingly off what the body requires to be called a healthy one. VIBHA VARSHNEY and PRATAP PANDEY work their way through the fat
India's nutritional puzzle
Economists C P Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh call this phenomenon the "calorie consumption puzzle". Delving into the data released by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSS) on nutritional intake in India -- data pertaining to the 55th round of survey for 1999-2000 -- they conclude that the report reveals unmistakable proof of a decline, over time, in per capita calorie consumption on average. The decline is "especially marked" in rural India. "Average calorie consumption in India," they write, "was already low by international standards. That it has actually declined despite apparently high aggregate economic growth rates is clearly something that merits much more attention". In short, something is terribly nutritionally deficient in the Indian state.
Exactly how appalling is the current state of nutritional intake in the country? The Hyderabad-based National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) has carried out a survey of 120 villages in 8 districts of each state in India "to assess time trends in diet and nutritional status of rural population". These villages include 90 surveyed earlier in 1975-1979 and 1988-1990. The report of its latest survey (2nd repeat survey carried out in 1996-1997) pertains to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Gujarat. It clarifies, with respect to rural India, some of the puzzling aspects of the NSS survey:
• Cereals and millets (in Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra) formed the bulk of the diet. Between 1975-1979 and 1996-1997, there has been a decrease in consumption.
• Consumption of foodstuffs such as pulses were less than the recommended dietary intake (RDI) -- 40 gm per day -- in all states except Karnataka. The deficiency ranged from 15 per cent of RDI in Gujarat to 57 per cent in Kerala: this also reflects local changes in diet.
• Green leafy vegetables formed only 17-27 per cent of RDI (40 gm) in different states, the average being an abysmal 15 gm per day. The deficit in the intake of other vegetables (such as gourd, beans, brinjal, cauliflower) was 12 per cent of RDI (60 gm) in Gujarat to around 53 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Over time, the increase in intake of green leafy vegetables was a mere 8 gm per day in 1975-1979 to 15 gm per day in 1996-1997. The consumption of other vegetables shows a decline: 54 gm per day in 1975-1979 to 47 gm per day in 1996-1997.
• The intake for milk and milk products was less than the RDI of 150 ml in all states except Gujarat
Thus it is not surprising that in terms of nutritional intake, the figures for rural India that NNMB throws up are seriously troubling. On an average 70 per cent of households consumed protein less than RDA (recommended daily allowance, 60 gm) for all states. Similarly, energy intake was less in 75 per cent of all households surveyed. Inadequacy also marked the consumption of micronutrients such as iron and calcium.
The NNMB survey finds that over time, "the proportion of households with monthly per capita income showed a significant decline". "However," states the report, "the proportion of households having no land increased from about 30 per cent to about 41 per cent between 1975-1979 and and 1996-1997, while there was reduction in the proportion of households with more than 5 acres". On this basis, the report makes a diplomatic conclusion that nevertheless drives a stake through the heart of India's food policy:
"The land holding status [in rural India] over the past 20 years indicates fragmentation of land holding size, indirectly leading to food insecurity. An appraisal of the changes in some of the socio-economic factors indicates that, by and large, the improvement was only marginal. In fact, the proportion of landless seems to have increased in the sample studied. This, perhaps, explains as to reasons for no changes in the dietary pattern in the States surveyed during the past 2 decades".
Clearly, India is eating less. People are increasingly becoming poor and marginalised, which directly tells upon their their food intake and so the nutrition their bodies receive, But, even worse, what India is eating is also bad. Its nutrtional deficiency understands neither poverty nor wealth; the deficiency affects all.
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