A capsule or a wholesome meal for the malnourished?

A malnourished child being weighed at an anganwadi centre. While the government is set to administer Spirulina to severely malnourished children, activists say it has never been advocated for child feeding. File photo

A malnourished child being weighed at an anganwadi centre. While the government is set to administer Spirulina to severely malnourished children, activists say it has never been advocated for child feeding. File photo

Move to give nutrition supplements to anganwadi children draws flak.

Can two grams of a plant-based dietary supplement substitute a wholesome balanced meal for anganwadi children?

With the Women and Child Development Department all set to administer Spirulina to severely malnourished children, activists and nutritionists are battling for a wholesome meal instead.

As announced in the State Budget, the department has decided to administer two gm of Spirulina for 180 days to severely malnourished anganwadi children across the State. The dietary supplement will be given in either sugar-coated granular or capsule form, and the department is in the process of finalising the tenders.

According to the department’s data, there are 26,000 severely malnourished children in the State, and it has set aside Rs. 3.6 crore for administering Spirulina.

Officials claimed that a pilot programme carried out in association with JSW Foundation in Sandur taluk of Ballari in the last one year brought down malnutrition levels from 45 per cent to 29 per cent. “The decision to extend it across the State was based on the success of this pilot programme,” said Malathi S. Pol, Deputy Director (ICDS).

However, nutritionists and activists say Spirulina is not a traditional food in India, and has never been advocated for child feeding. They said such attempts will only help create a market for Spirulina.

Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of the Hyderbad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), said what pre-schoolers need are wholesome balanced meals. “By trying to substitute vitamins and nutrients with a dietary supplement, the government is making a mockery of the idea of child nutrition. This is the age when their taste buds are activated and they start relishing the food they eat,” she said. She said studies from NIN using Spirulina to combat Vitamin A deficiency in children 15 years ago had to be terminated because after one month of receiving a batch, the levels of B Carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, had come down to 40 per cent of its value in the children.

Besides, neither the Indian Academy of Paediatrics nor the Young Child Feeding Practises reports of the UNICEF recommend Spurilina as food for children, she said. Debate rages over a wholesome meal or dietary capsulefor malnourished children

Even the National Food Security Act, 2013, mandates that under ICDS children should be given local food to meet their nutritional needs. We demand that the programme be dropped. Instead let them give eggs and bananas to all children.

Swarna Bhat,

Member, Right to Food Campaign

These attempts at supplementing food are only aimed at creating a market for Spirulina. They are trials involving children without the written consent of parents; such trials should be done under regulation.

Sylvia Karpagam,

Public Health Consultant

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