New Delhi: The results of phase two of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) were released by the central government on Wednesday 24 November. The NFHS-5 results provide population, health and nutrition information for India and each State/Union Territory (UT). NFHS-5 phase one results for 22 states and UT were released in December 2020. As part of the phase two results, NHFS-5 phase one and two data were used to calculate the results at the national level of key indicators on population, reproductive and child health, family well-being, nutrition and others, as well as for 14 states and UTs, which were not covered in the first phase.
Anemia and obesity on the rise in India: NFHS-5 findings
The India-wide results highlight a grim reality for the country when it comes to anemia and obesity. According to the data, anemia increased in all groups (children, women and men) compared to NFHS-4 (2015-16).
According to NFHS-5 data, anemia in children aged 6-59 months fell from 58.6% in 2015-2016 to 67.1%, down from 58.6%. The same trend was also observed in men and women. According to the latest data, anemia has increased among women aged 15-49, from 53.1% in 2015-2016 to 57%. Among men aged 15-49, anemia has fallen from 22.7% in 2015-2016 to 25% today.
The report further stated: “Anemia in children and women continues to be a cause for concern. More than half of children and women (including pregnant women) are anemic in all phase two states and at UT and All India levels by NFHS-4 despite substantial increase in composition iron folic acid (IFA) tablets by pregnant women for 180 days or more.
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Obesity, on the other hand, has also increased in both men and women. The percentage of obese women, according to NFHS-5 data, increased to 24% from 20.6% in 2015-2016. Among men, obesity increased from 18.9% to 22.9% (NFHS-4).
The data also highlighted that while underweight children have fallen from 35.8% in 2015-2016 to 32.1% today, overweight statistics have fallen from 2.1% in 2015 -2016 at 3.4%.
What the experts have to say about the results of the latest National Family Health Survey
Basanta Kumar Kar, recipient of the Global Nutrition Leadership Award, discusses trends in anemia and obesity from the NFHS 5 report, said:
The NHFS 5 result indicates that the management of wasting, anemia and obesity/overweight and IYCF (infant and young child feeding) should be the top priorities for investment. In India, only 11.3% of children aged 6-23 months receive adequate nutrition. The increase in anemia and obesity/overweight at the national level is a source of serious concern. Something is seriously wrong with access to safe and nutritious diets in our country and we need to fix it.
Further speaking about the increase in cases of anemia in India, Mr Kar said it was caused by infection and inflammation (including malaria), iron deficiencies, other micronutrient deficiencies and genetic factors. He added,
It is time for India to come up with a new anemia reduction strategy. Currently, the strategy focuses on iron deficiencies. We need to get out of this and focus on current health issues.
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He also added that all the ubiquitous dangerous foods are cause for concern. Mr. Kar said,
A diet high in sugar, salt, and fat, including trans fats, along with lifestyle issues like inactivity, could be a reason for the rise in obesity and overweight trends in our country. India’s food regulator, FSSAI, has a bigger role in controlling all ubiquitous unsafe foods.
Talking about what can be done and the strategies India needs to adopt to tackle this dual problem of anemia and obesity, Mr. Kar added:
India needs to double, triple or quadruple its efforts in many indicators to achieve Poshan Abhiyan and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our children need a safe and dignified place to survive and thrive.
Attributing the rising levels of obesity in India to foods high in fat and sugar readily available in the market, Sheila Vir, public health nutrition expert and founding director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition and Development, said “We have a double burden of malnutrition and overnutrition occurring together. So I think we are wrong about what to feed a child. I think there is definitely a lack of awareness about what are good eating habits and what are not. And since foods high in fat and sugar are readily available, their consumption is higher.
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Mini Varghese, Country Manager, Nutrition International, India added,
The increase in anemia is surely a cause for concern. Improving nutritional indicators depends on several other factors such as access to quality food, food prices, purchasing power and socio-economic status. This indicates that we need to look beyond the obvious medical reasons and examine them with a holistic approach. All of these aspects require further investigation to understand the plausible reasons.
Talking about the steps India needs to take to tackle anaemia, Ms. Varghese added:
We need to dig deeper into the data and understand the drivers of anemia in India and address the root causes which would include nutritional and non-nutritional causes. Until we know the reasons, our strategy should be to implement available programs with quality and rigor to drive scale. In addition, emphasis on other factors such as education of women, hemoglobin testing, reinforcement of dietary advice, especially for pregnant women, and distribution of iron and acid tablets folate would help reduce the burden of anemia in the country.
NDTV – Dettol have been working for a clean and healthy India since 2014 through The Banega Swachh India initiative, led by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the interdependence of humans and the environment, and of humans on each other, with an emphasis on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It emphasizes the need to care for and consider the health of everyone in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous peoples, various Indian tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically distant populations, gender and sexual minorities. With the current Covid-19 pandemicthe need for WASH (The water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed because handwashing is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness of the same while emphasizing the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, the fight malnutritionmental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign realized the need to also take care of the health of the ecosystem. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits available resources, but also generates immense pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in an immense loss of biodiversity which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity”. The campaign will continue to cover issues such as air pollution, Waste Management, plastic ban, manual scan and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also advance the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only a clean Swachh or India where bathroom are used and without open defecation (ODF) status obtained under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a healthy Swasth or India.