Behaviour is highly influenced by the environment in which people live. Barriers to healthy eating may be a result of individual, economical, social, political or environmental factors that impact their food choice, food access and the food availability. Access to adequate food is a basic human right.
Community Nutrition helps to reduce these barriers and reduce the risk of health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc caused by poor dietary habits. They provide primary health care, human services and community based support to meet the local community needs.
Community nutrition (public health nutrition) focuses on groups of individuals and the masses. This area of nutrition aims at educating these groups of individuals to develop healthy eating habits in order to promote wellness and prevent disease thereby improving the quality of life of the population in the community where programs and services are delivered.
Dietitians and nutritionists work with many other health care professionals in promoting improved public health. Their efforts emphasize a preventive approach in educating individuals and groups in how a change in dietary habits will reduce the risk of illness. Community nutrition focuses on all age groups.
Although India has seen strong economic growth over the past 20 years, childhood malnutrition rates have remained very high. The prevalence of malnutrition in children under five in India continues to be among the highest in the world.
Some of the steps taken by the Indian government to improve this scenario: Indian government has initiated large scale supplementary feeding programs aimed at overcoming specific deficiency diseases through various ministries.
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare runs programs to prevent Vit A deficiency, iodine deficiency and nutritional anemia.
Ministry of Social Welfare runs the Integrated Child Development Services(ICDS) scheme, the Balwadi Nutrition Scheme that provides food and supplements to children between the age groups 3-6 yrs in rural areas and looks after the social and emotional development of the child. The Special Nutrition Program which targets children under 6 as well as pregnant and lactating mothers in tribal, urban and rural areas.
Ministry of Human Resource Development runs the mid-day meal program to improve the nutritional standards of children nationwide. The main objective of this program is to improve literacy rate by attracting more children for admissions to school and retain them. However, there is still no consistent, curriculum-based, specific program or subject that educates children, teachers and parents in nutrition and health education. Early Childhood Nutrition Education starting at an early age can have positive outcomes in the community. Children are not only the future citizens of lndia, they could be excellent ambassadors to motivate and counsel family members and the community on the importance of good dietary habits. They can also help spread the awareness on good hygiene habits to be maintained during handling, cooking, eating and storing the food. Food habits learnt in childhood can last a lifetime. Nutrition Education should therefore start from preschool years as it helps lay the foundation for healthy eating habits and behaviours. Children learn about the nutrients needed for the body as well skills to make good food choices. All this will lead to better outcomes for lifelong health and immunity.
Ministry of Rural Development runs the applied nutrition program which promotes production and consumption of fruits and vegetables. The rural communities are taught through demonstrations on how to produce foods for their own consumption and with their own efforts. It extends to all the states in India.
There are a number of schemes directly and indirectly affecting the nutritional status of children (0-6 years age) and pregnant women and lactating mothers. In Spite of this, the level of malnutrition and related problems in the country is high. This is because of a lack of synergy and linking between schemes to achieve a common goal. With the aim of solving this issue the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) (Rashtriya Poshan Mission) has been launched recently with a three year budget of 9046.17 crore rupees commencing from 2017-18. The NNM, as an apex body under the Ministry of Women and Child Development will monitor, supervise, fix targets and guide nutrition related interventions across the Ministries. It will monitor various schemes contributing towards addressing malnutrition. The goals of NNM are to achieve improvement in nutritional status of Children from 0-6 years, Adolescent Girls, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers in a time bound manner during the next three years beginning 2017-18.
In Sep 2020 the Ministry of WCD conceptualized a digital platform, Poshan Tracker, for the holistic implementation and real-time evaluation of anganwadi and other schemes under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Concept of Poshan Vatika is also introduced to encourage community members to cultivate local food crops in their backyards. A nutrition garden ensures an inexpensive, regular and handy supply of fresh fruits and vegetables that are basic to good nutrition.
Nutrition Education can be an integration of many of the government schemes in the most basic form. It is the key to solving the multi-layered scourge of malnutrition through out the country and it starts with the first step - Local Level Education.