A very large percentage of children in urban India, including those from well to do families, suffer from nutrition problems. These problems are widespread in children across urban India, including in homes with adequate incomes, which have no food affordability concerns.
The food they eat at home, due to its inadequacy, has become a safety issue.
There are three significant classes of problems :
– Micronutrient deficiencies that are often not apparent
– Protein deficient diets along with micronutrient deficiencies
– Obesity, often along with micronutrient deficiencies
There are multiple reasons for this:
- Children can be fussy eaters. Getting them to eat a lot of vegetables is often a problem. The child therefore ends up eating mostly grain with inadequate micronutrient diversity, or junk food which could be high in simple starches/sugars and/or fat and/or salt (HFSS food). Often, HFSS food is poor in nutrient diversity.
- Busy parents seek convenience. Cooking too many dishes is time consuming and, therefore, quick and easy recipes are sought. Most of the time, this favours grain or potato based foods with not enough vegetables or protein such as Pulao, Roti and aloo sabji, upma, poha etc.
- Convenience, for many, is taking the form of easy to cook or ready to eat meals, like instant noodles. This creates the same problem as grain or potato based foods, i.e., not enough vegetables or protein.
- Guilty parents try to bridge the nutrition gap with sugary products marketed as “growth or health drinks” like Complan, Horlicks, Pediasure etc. While some of these products surely deliver micronutrients and protein, they contribute to an excessive sugar driven child obesity epidemic.
- Snacking is the other major problem area. Almost all snacking products for children, whether purchased or made at home, are high in simple starches/sugars and/or fat and/or salt (HFSS foods), whether it is wafers or chips, ice-cream, chocolates, mithai, salted deep fried snacks or sweet/salted biscuits.
Educating mothers on superior dishes and recipes is not a solution. Nutrition education has proven to be very difficult and poorly understood and poorly adopted even by highly educated people. Expecting failed methods to now miraculously start working is foolish.
We must accept that the convenience foods revolution is here to stay, and asking families to shun packaged food is not a practical solution, and we cannot expect children to snack on carrots either.
These nonsensical expectations and ineffective education continue to be pushed as the solution by misguided academics and policy makers.
Here is what we need in the marketplace instead:
- Ready to eat or packaged convenience meals, which can be promoted to mothers as nutritionally superior alternatives for children
- Snacking products, which can be promoted to mothers as nutritionally superior alternatives for children
These do not really exist right now. The foods that are being promoted as nutritional supplements are sugary drinks that have become a big part of the problem.
The snacks or packaged meals that are being promoted as healthy are usually “whole grain” or “coarse grain”, “baked and not fried”, “all natural”, “low fat”, or a combination of these. This is NOT the nutrition solution. This does not adequately address the protein and micronutrient issues, nor does it address the issues of calorific under nutrition or over nutrition.
There is a need for better products out there.