More than just mothers: Why women’s and girls’ nutrition deserves our collective attention - Hindustan Times
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More than just mothers: Why women’s and girls’ nutrition deserves our collective attention

ByHindustan Times
Jul 29, 2023 01:59 PM IST

This article is authored by Jaydeep Tank, President-Elect of FOGSI.

Nutrition is crucial for leading a healthy and productive life. There is an inordinate focus on pregnancy in the existing approach to women’s nutrition. Notwithstanding the importance of phases, like the first 1000 days of child’s life, beginning at pregnancy, covering childbirth and postpartum periods, and continuing through the first two years, and adolescence, I cannot sufficiently emphasise the need for a lifecycle approach to nutrition. More efforts are needed to look at broader issues surrounding women's and girls' nutrition.

Nutrition(Freepik)
Nutrition(Freepik)

As per the recent National Health and Family-5 (NFHS) (2019-21) survey, more than half of women aged 15-49 suffer from anaemia. Furthermore, 18.7% of women have a low BMI (body mass index), while the percentage is comparatively lower at 16.2% for men. The survey also highlights the growing concern of obesity with 24.6% of women being obese or overweight, compared to 22.9% of men.

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Nutrition for girls and women is a gender equity issue much beyond maternal and newborn outcomes; it involves prioritising overall quality of life for their own well-being as well as their families and communities and for achieving their full potential as a citizen of the society and country. Well-nourished girls and women live a higher quality of life, with better cognition, helping them perform better in schools, colleges, as well as their workplace, and higher immunity against diseases and illness. In my three decades of practise as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I have witnessed undernourished girls growing up to become undernourished mothers leading to adverse pregnancy outcomes like low-birth-weight babies, anaemia and other issues. This perpetuates an intergenerational pattern of health challenges.

While the array of schemes and programmes which exist for women have undeniably made an impact, fully addressing malnutrition in girls and women remains out of reach. Current maternity benefits, and care during and post pregnancy, early childhood care support, along with the education and empowerment schemes certainly are rights steps. A comprehensive approach and coherent and coordinated actions across multiple relevant sectors towards women’s nutrition is the need of the hour- underlying the need for an all-hands-on deck response.

In addressing this complex issue, I want to emphasise its urgency and make a call for action. We need stronger and more nuanced policy protection for girls and women across sectors which affects nutrition —be it improvement in education, employment support, social protection benefits, better counselling, and health services, or providing better sanitation facilities, to name a few. We must take cognisance of the fact that women’s nutrition is a highly complex issue that interplays with many actors, agencies, and societal norms, which no single agency or stakeholder can address alone. Additionally, any efforts to address women's and girls' nutrition will fall short if we do not confront the deep-rooted gender disparities that persist in our society. No policy or programme, no matter how well-intentioned, can fully uplift women unless equity is built into it.

Another striking issue is, the language and approaches we currently employ to reach women with nutrition-related information are overly technical and disconnected from their lived realities. It is crucial to recognise the highly diverse context in which women and girls exist in our country and incorporate this understanding into the design of simple informational resources. Our messaging must encompass the cultural diversity of our nation and empathetically resonate with the realities which women face. Health Care Providers can play a pivotal role in providing accurate and authentic information to the public. Professional medical associations and federations can further enhance this impact by ensuring the widespread dissemination of reliable knowledge, enabling people to access the right information for their health and well-being.

While I speak as a clinician, I realise that addressing nutrition in silos is insufficient and ineffective. We have a lot of work on our hands, if we are to fix the many determinants which puts our country’s women and girls at a disadvantage. By prioritising and improving women's and girls' nutrition, we can pave the way for a healthier and brighter future, unlocking the full potential of the demographic dividend India enjoys now and fostering a health and thriving society.

This article is authored by Jaydeep Tank, President-Elect of FOGSI.

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