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Malnutrition is a fairly wide-spread and complex problem that poses a serious threat to life in some parts of the world. Recent estimates point out that one in every four children under-five (including 146 million children in the developing world) is underweight (UNICEF, 2006). Of the 146 million, 78 million children are in South Asia. According to another estimate that used two indicators (the prevalence of early childhood stunting and the number of people living in absolute poverty), there are more than 200 million children under 5 years in developing countries, mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa who are not fulfilling their developmental potential (Grantham-McGregor et al, 2007). Poor nutrition contributes to about 5.6 million child deaths per year and more than half of the total deaths take place in India. A more serious concern is the fact that the number of children under-five who are underweight has remained almost unchanged since 1990 (UNICEF, 2006). This is particularly true for India where the number of malnourished children has not changed significantly as seen from the National Health and Family Survey data in all the three surveys. The percentage of underweight children in the country was 53.4 in 1992; it decreased to 45.8 in 1998 and again rose to 47 in 2006 (IIPS, 1995, 2000, 2007). A government-supported survey in 2012 said 42 percent of children under five are underweight - almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa - compared to 43 percent five years ago. The statistic - which means 3,000 children dying daily due to illnesses related to poor diets. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to admit malnutrition was "a national shame" and was putting the health of the nation in jeopardy.
Deficiency of essential micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, iodine, folic acid and zinc, constitutes a major health threat for a large number of children in India. Estimates suggest that every day, more than 6,000 under-fives die in India and more than half of these deaths are caused by malnutrition, mainly due to micronutrient deficiency. About 57 percent of preschoolers and their mothers have sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency. Twenty six percent of the country’s population is zinc deficient which contributes directly to stunting. Nearly 50,000 children are deformed every year due to folic acid deficiency. The loss on account of micronutrient deficiencies costs the nation 1 percent of GDP which amounts to Rs. 277.2 billion or more in terms of loss of productivity, illness, increased health care costs and death (Micronutrient Initiative, 2006). The average dietary intake of micronutrients estimated by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (cited in Micronutrient Initiative, 2006) suggests that the low-income population in rural areas is able to meet 48 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron. Iron deficiency anaemia in the country is high because of low dietary intake, poor iron, and other nutrient intake; poor bio-availability of iron; and infections such as malaria and hook-worm infestations.
Children are vulnerable to malnutrition from conception. Pregnant women who are undernourished are more likely to have low birth weight babies who, in turn, are susceptible to developmental delays. These early deficits sustained with post-natal malnutrition often result in diminished cognitive functioning. Malnourished children are also more prone to illness. By the time they reach school-age, they have a much lower potential to learn compared to their well-nourished peers. Deficiency of micronutrients, such as iron, iodine, zinc and vitamin A, in a child’s early years may result in a lower attention span, decreased ability to concentrate and poor memory. Anaemia resulting from deficiency of iron is known to have a severe impact on the cognitive development of children.
The importance of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition is very well known. These are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, salts, low acids, bases, reducing and non reducing sugars, alkaloids, fibbers, pectin, fats, enzymes, etc. which help regulate body processes and also give protection us from the ill effects of many diseases, disorders and malnutrition. The daily requirements of the some of the essential nutrients can be very well met, if a person consumes about 85 g fruits, 75 to 125 g leafy vegetables, 85 g other vegetables and 85 g roots and tubers every day on a balanced diet pattern.
Vegetables are quite costly these days and quite often their purchase up to required level become impossible for a poor. At the same time nearly 40% of our horticulture produce goes waste due to lack of proper post harvest management facility. The annual loss of vegetables in India due to wastage is rs. 2,00,000 cr. We should realise the need for effort on proper post harvest management for horticulture produces.