The Government on Friday avoided a direct response to a question whether there was a rise in malnutrition during COVID-19.
In the Lok Sabha, Congress member Deepak Baij asked whether malnutrition among children had increased during the pandemic period.
Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani said, “To ensure continuous nutritional support to beneficiaries, anganwadi workers and helpers distributed supplementary nutrition at the doorstep of beneficiaries once in 15 days during COVID-19 as all anganwadi centres across the country were closed to limit the impact of the pandemic.”
The Minister added that anganwadi workers and helpers also assisted the local administration in community surveillance, creating awareness as well as other work assigned to them from time to time.
Studies have shown that the pandemic could lead to increase in malnutrition due to loss of livelihood, disruption in food and health services.
A paper published in July 2021 in British journal Nature and authored by Saskia Osendarp of the Micronutrient Forum stated that based on predicted declines in gross national income (GNI) in 118 countries included in the study, the number of children under five years with wasting could increase by an additional 9.3 million; an estimated 2.6 million additional children were likely to be stunted in 2022 compared to 2019; and there would be roughly 1,68,000 additional deaths of children under five years.
“It is really important that we have data on what has been going on with children and families in what has been a challenging time. There are methods for collecting rapid data during emergencies, but there was no surveillance. I would have liked to see rapid surveys in the context of COVID-19 and that data made public,” says Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute.
Family Health Survey
Though the National Family Health Survey-5, which was made public recently, measures malnutrition indicators, researchers argue that there are difficulties in studying the impact of COVID-19.
“There are challenges in understanding NFHS-5 data. We have to compare the data district by district to understand the changes in relation to what was happening during COVID-19 in those districts. Moreover, we need to account for seasonality in data collection since that could also differ between survey rounds for the same geographic areas. There can be vast differences if data are recorded during the monsoon season when there can be paucity of available food versus post-harvest season when diets are relatively better,” says Dr. Menon.