Educating masses on health and nutrition

Ram Rattan Sharma

There is a consistent rise in the problem of under nutrition, micro nutrients deficiencies, obesity and diet related chronic diseases across the globe. Nutrient imbalance may result in poor physical and cognitive development morbidity and mortality as well as loss of human potential, Thus, affecting social/economic development. Many developing nations including India are presently dealing with severe health concerns at both ends of the nutrition – spectrum bearing dual burden of malnutrition. Malnutrition according to the world health organization refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients. While hundreds of millions suffer from chronic degenerative diseases caused by excessive or imbalanced diets, countries are still struggling to feed the population as well as facing the costs of preventing obesity and treating diet related non-communicable diseases.
Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that it is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, a healthy diet/ environment needs to be created for all the sectors; and is the most effective way for meeting the challenges. Further, health promotion approach is envisaged to empower the population to take well informed and rational health – related choices. Mass Media and other modes of media need to be widely used to disseminate knowledge and create awareness for influencing the nutrition/ health related behaviour of populations. The goal of health and nutrition for all is attainment of the highest possible level of good health/ well being and good nutrition through population based approach of integrated health, Nutrition is a science involving the interaction of nutrients and other compounds present in food like anthocyanins, tannins, antioxidants, phyto nutrients, etc, in relation to growth maintenance, reproduction, health and disease condition of an individual. Good nutrition implies consumption of the appropriate amount of nutrients from healthy foods in the right combinations. Regular physical activity is also essential for maintaining health and preventing diseases. Nutrition constitutes the very foundation of human development by imparting immunity and thus reducing morbidity, morality and disability. In addition, it promotes life long learning capacities and enhanced productivity.
India has been in the forefront for developing food and nutrition databases . Our country has also been investing in numerous nutrition invention programmes to improve food and nutrition security of the masses, thereby meeting the nutrient gap among vulnerable sections of the society. Nutrition and health education has been recognised as an important tool for nutrition promotion and perhaps the most cost effective tool for improving the quality of life and development of the community and the nation. Realising the importance of an integrated approach to health/ nutrition education, Government organises training of grass roots level functionaries belonging to concerned sectors at village level.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has adopted a strategy of organising health melas to provide health education and early diagnosis besides providing health care services completely free of cost. These health melas are envisaged to attract citizens desiring to avail quality health care services with essential pathological tests. The melas are a potent vehicle in informing people about the various health programmes being carried out by the central Government, State government, NGOs, etc; and the different systems of medicine.
The Eat Right India movement incorporates mass media, including social media as part of its outreach to generate public awareness. Eat Right India initiatives include a logo demonstrating the components of an optimal diet, training for front line health care functionaries; an online retailer promoting healthy diets; and online quizzes to raise awareness regarding appropriate nutrition. Food and nutrition education in the school/college settings can provide children, adolescents, school staff and communities with learning experiences designed to encourage healthy eating habits and positive optimum nutrition – related behaviours. It is important to use a combination of evidence – based and behaviourally focused educational strategies that involve active participation of students, school staff, college and the wider community. Guidance on implementing a health oriented food/nutrition curriculum should be established at a national level to ensure a defined role for health and nutrition in the national education system. Health/ nutrition awareness needs to be imparted to provide knowledge and skills regarding the relationship between good diet, physical activity and health; safe food preparation/ consumption identifying barriers to make healthy food choices and solutions to overcome those barriers providing media and marketing literacy to the masses specially regarding misleading food choices.
Changing food habits with reduced physical activity is a growing phenomenon around the world. People are consuming more food high in energy, saturated fat, trans fats, free sugars, salt sodium and less fruits vegetables and dietary fibers such as whole grains, pulses nutritious food is a vital corner stone of health. Therefore, food should supply necessary nutrients in appropriate quantities to meet the body’s needs. Both excess and deficiency of nutrients are equally harmful and have long lasting adverse effects on individual family and community health. Thus it is of utmost importance to address this issue effectively and make the community aware of the importance of good health and optimum nutrition. Good nutrition, regular physical activity and adequate sleep are the essential prerequisites of healthy living. A holistic approach is needed to promote the concept of optimum nutrition in the entire nation. Multisectoral innovative approaches are needed to involve all age groups covering all sections of the society. Keeping in view cultural diversity in food habits/ practices and purchasing power parity to make people cognizant of healthy nutrition. Appropriate initiative needs to be taken right from childhood in schools, childcare centers in families, so that foundation stone of healthy eating habits and good health is laid at the right age and can be transmitted well in future generations too.
(The author is former Dy Librarian University of Jammu).