By Arshreet Singh
A stark difference in the consumption of iron-rich foods is observed between children of different faiths, according to the National Family Health Survey-5. Among children aged between 6 and 23 months, those belonging to the Muslim faith are 10 percentage points more likely to have consumed iron-rich foods than children belonging to the Hindu faith. The survey says 28 percent of Hindu children and 38 percent of their Muslim counterparts have iron-rich food.
“This is probably due to dietary habits of different faiths. Muslims are more likely to consume meat-heavy diets, which are also rich in iron. But not all Hindus are vegetarians either,” said Dr Priyanka Bakshi, a dietician at the Apollo Sugar Clinic.
Karnataka ranks 17th among other states with the highest number of anaemic children, as per the National Health Mission rankings. Despite attempts by the state government to alleviate anaemia, it rose by 5 percent in the past five years.
According to NFHS-5, two-thirds of Karnataka children between the age of 6 and 59 months are anaemic. The number jumped from 61 percent to 66 percent in the past five years.
“Anaemia is categorised by low haemoglobin levels in the bloodstream, usually due to lack of iron. However, it can also be caused due to malaria, other nutritional deficiencies and genetics,” said pediatrician Dr Aman Ghosh. “It can result in stunting, impaired cognitive function and motor development in children. Long-term effects include diabetes and hypertension.”
Children suffering from anaemia often suffer from malnutrition too. Lack of funds to buy a healthy, balanced diet contributes to this.
Dr Revathi Madan, a general physician, explained: “Children suffering from anaemia often belong to poor families. They don’t have the money to buy vegetables or eggs. All they eat is rice, which is not enough to meet all the requirements of the human body.”
The state government recently launched a rice-fortification project on a pilot basis in two villages in Koppal district. The results are not known yet.
Despite the Anaemia Mukt Bharat mission launched in Karnataka in 2019 that aims to reduce the prevalence of anaemia by 3 percent every year, the number of anaemia cases has only increased.
Dr. Arundhati Chandrashekar, Mission Director of the National Health Mission, informed The Observer the pandemic adversely affected the implementation of the central government programme. “Digital haemoglobin level checkers have been introduced… in various districts in the state to get a better idea of the problem. Inter-departmental coordination is needed if we are to reach the target… by 2022,” she said.
According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, consumption of millets can provide most daily dietary iron requirements of an average person. Government schemes like the fortified rice mission, Ksheera Bhagya Yojana which provides 150 ml of milk to children younger than six years and ayurveda for treating anaemic children may go a long way in reducing the incidence of anaemia.