The 2020 edition of the Global Nutrition Report was released on Tuesday, 12th May. The report assumes greater significance as the whole world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and has warned that, “ There is a real risk that, as nations strive to control the [COVID-19] virus, the gains they have made in reducing hunger and malnutrition will be lost”. It may however be added that though the report was written before the pandemic, its emphasis on nutritional well- being for all, particularly the most vulnerable, has a heightened significance in the face of this global threat. The online global launch of the report was by the Indian Nutrition Initiative, an initiative of Tata Trusts. Titled “Action on Equity to End Malnutrition”, the report “calls on governments, businesses and civil society to step up efforts to address malnutrition in all its forms and tackle injustices in food and health systems”.

The Global Nutrition Report [GNR] established in 2014, is the world’s largest independent assessment of the state of global nutrition, providing the best data, in-depth analysis and expert opinion rooted in evidence to help drive action on nutrition where it is urgently needed. It is a multi- stakeholder initiative comprising global institutions.

According to the report “poor diets and resulting malnutrition are among the greatest current societal challenges causing vast health, economic and environmental burdens. To fix the global nutrition crisis equitably, we must shift our approach in two ways: focusing on food and health. First, we must address iniquities in food systems, from production to consumption. Current food systems do not enable people to make healthy food choices. A vast majority of people today simply cannot access or afford a healthy diet. The reasons for this are complex. Existing agriculture systems are largely focused on the overabundance of staple grains like rice wheat and maze rather than producing a broader range of more diverse and healthier food, like fruits, nuts and vegetables. Meanwhile highly processed foods are available, cheap and intensely marketed; their sales are still high in high-income countries and growing fast in upper-middle and lower middle- income countries”.

“Second, we must address nutrition iniquities in health systems. Malnutrition in all its forms has become the leading cause of ill health and death, and the rapid rise of diet-related non communicable diseases [NCDs] in putting an intolerable strain on health systems. Yet, most people cannot access or afford quality nutrition, care for prevention and treatment. Worldwide only about one-quarter of the 16.6 million children under five years of age with severe acute malnutrition received treatment in 2017, highlighting the urgent need to address this unacceptable burden. Nutrition actions represent only a tiny portion of national health budgets, although they can be highly cost-effective and can reduce health care spending in the long term”.

We have since long initiated nutrition programmes like Integrated Child Development Scheme, [ICDS] Mid-day Meal Scheme, Anganwadi Nutrition programme, programmes to combat deficiency of iron, iodine etc, but we continue to lag behind in our nutrition standards Our record of nutritional standards has not been of a high order. So how does the Global Nutrition Report look at India? The World Health Assembly in 2012 had identified six nutrition targets such as nutrition for maternal, infant and child nutrition to be achieved by 2025.The Global Nutrition Report 2020 states that India will miss targets for all nutritional indicators for which there is data available. These include stunting [low height for age due to long-term under nutrition and infections] wasting [low weight for height, a strong indicator of mortality] and childhood overweight among children under five, anaemia among women of reproductive age and exclusive breastfeeding. 37. 9% of children under five are stunted and 20. 8% are wasted. These are far below Asian standards. Between 2,000 and 2,012 prevalence of anaemia in India increased among women of reproductive age.

We have seen the largescale exit of migrant workers from our cities travelling on foot, cycles or whatever transport they could get to their homes in villages in faraway states and their struggle to get food. We can imagine what nutrition they would have had, living on dry ‘rotis’ or whatever food they could get. They included lakhs of women [many of them pregnant]and children. This has exposed our vulnerability to such disastrous pandemics and the Global Nutrition Report has rightly given as a timely warning.