Context: Health and nutrition of India’s adolescent girls have to be prioritized to unlock the full potential of its future.
WHO defines adolescence as the period of 10–19 years. This key decade in the life course has implications on adult health, socio-economic well-being of a country and even the health of the future children.
What is the current status of adolescent girls’ health in India?
- Data – According to National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), 59.1% of adolescent girls are anaemic.
- According to National Family Health Survey-4, over 41.9% of school-going girls are underweight.
- Ever-growing nutritional concern – The numbers showcase a worrying trend of adolescent girls’ health in India.
- A range of factors from environmental conditions to cultural norms makes adolescent girl nutrition complex.
- Lack of gender-neutral environment within a household affects the nutrition uptake in adolescent girls.
- Irrespective of several successful health initiatives, the current health interventions do not specifically focus on the nutritional statuses of adolescent girls.
What are the consequences of lack of adolescent girl nutrition?
- Poorly balanced and insufficient diets can lead to cognitive impairments that affect one’s academic performance.
- The lower educational attainment can limit opportunities for employment and economic self-sufficiency later in life.
- Undernourished adolescent girls are also at a higher risk of chronic diseases and pregnancy complications.
- A higher health-care burden on families and communities, potentially leads to financial instability and increased poverty.
- Complete female participation in work, politics, or community involvement is affected if girls’ health and education is affected.
Need for ensuring nutrition during Adolescence
- Compensates initial deficiencies: Nutrition during adolescence compensates for any nutrient deficiencies acquired during early developmental stages in the girl child.
- Increase labour participation: Healthy adolescence is a significant indicator of women’s labour force participation in the country in the long term, as better nutrition enhances a young girl’s prospect to participate in productive activities.
It thus provides opportunity to India to add to its demographic dividend by investing in nutrition interventions in adolescent girls.
- Affects cognitive abilities: Poorly balanced and insufficient nutrition can lead to cognitive impairments that affect academic performance.
This can lead to lower educational attainment, limiting opportunities for employment and economic self-sufficiency later in life.
- Pregnancy and health complications: Adolescent girls are at a higher risk of chronic diseases and pregnancy complications, thereby increasing health-care burden on both families and communities.
- Decline in social contributions: Less healthy and less educated girls are less likely to participate social activities, either through work, politics, or community involvement.
- It is not only a moral obligation of the state but also an economic one to invest in girls’ nutrition, with potential returns in the form of sustainable economic growth of the nation.
- Life-cycle approach: The government intervention should not only centre around good nutrition but also adopt a life-cycle approach, ensuring each eligible girl is covered.
- This will help break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, as well-nourished girls are more likely to have healthy off-springs.
- Tweak in schemes: In order to obtain better outcomes, there is a need to make modifications to existing interventions. Effective convergence and collaborations among all the relevant departments is the need of the hour.
- Bringing Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG) within the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition programme (POSHAN) 2.0 will be a step in this regard.
- Stronger awareness and nutrition education programmes could be included under Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK).
- Effective training of health workers: Health workers could be trained for effective implementation and monitoring of various schemes.
- Evidence-based actions: Study has to be commissioned to recognise the conditions and also the reasons for low nutrition. Actions taken must be backed with strong evidence.
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