World Health Day: The need for nutritional awareness

Amidst the rise of ever-increasing fast food as well as accessibility to them with food ordering services online, the need for proper nutrition and awareness surrounding it is greater than ever.

On October 31, 2019, a UNICEF report titled ‘Adolescents, Diets and Nutrition: Growing Well in a Changing World’ was issued and it pointed out the lack of proper nutritional awareness rampant in India. According to the report, in collaboration with NITI Aayog, most Indian adolescents consume unhealthy or subpar diets.

This leads to a greater chance of malnutrition and according to the survey, more than 50% of teenagers in India between the ages of 10 and 19 are underweight, overweight, or obese. The numbers are quite staggering - 63 million females, and 81 million males are included among them.

Furthermore, the lack of one or more micronutrients such as  iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and vitamin D is present in more than 80% of teenagers.

These nutritional disorders actually take hold when someone’s diet lacks the correct quantity of nutrients in order to function normally on a regular basis. Nutrients can be of two types: Macronutrients, like protein, carbohydrates, and fat, and micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals.

Vani Krishna, who is Chief Nutritionist at Manipal Hospital Varthur says, "Any micronutrient deficiency results in anomalies in the body. Malnutrition is the most common kind of nutritional problem, which is defined as being underweight (BMI 18) or overweight (BMI >25kg/m2). Long-term nutrient shortage can result in structural and functional issues. Childhood age groups are characterised by undernutrition, whereas maturity is marked by obesity and overnutrition."

So how can the nutritional problems be tackled especially among the young generation?

Foods that are high in iron, such as red meat, dark green vegetables, and fruits can battle anaemia. Foods rich in Vitamin C are also great at improving the body’s ability to absorb iron. The emergence of anemia due to iron deficiency can also be reduced with the consumption of necessary iron supplements.

Iodine is also an important micronutrient whose deficiency can cause stillbirths, cognitive abnormalities, low energy levels in kids, and miscarriages. Iodized salt should be taken in moderate amount in order to avoid iodine deficiency.

Moreover, adolescents should try to consume as many fruits and vegetables of various colours and kinds as possible in order to attain the entire vitamin complex and not leave any gaps in a balanced diet.

One of the most important nutrients for the human body is protein and protein-energy malnutrition is a widespread problem across the world that affects kids in large numbers. Kids who eat very little protein may develop PEM based diseases like Marasmus and Kwashiorkor.

Vani Krishna has also suggested a damning fact. The world’s second-highest percentage of obese toddlers is found in India. Children are also at greater risk of being obese and childhood obesity may have far reaching consequences even as an adult. It could lead to hypertension, diabetes, PCOD, liver disorder etc.

Therefore, on this World Health Day, it is more imperative than ever to ensure that the kids and young ones around us are getting the necessary nutrients in their meals.