A malnourished child being weighed at an anganwadi centre. Photo: The Hindu

A malnourished child being weighed at an anganwadi centre. Photo: The Hindu

Afshan Yasmeen reports in The Hindu that India’s recent moves to provide two grams of spirulina as nutritional supplements to undernourished children living in the country’s anganwadi shelters in the state of Karnataka is getting push back from some activists and nutritionists who see it as inferior to a balanced meal.

As announced in the Karnataka State Budget, the Women and Child Development Department are set to administer two grams of spirulina for 180 days to severely malnourished anganwadi children across the State. The dietary supplement will be given in either sugar-coated granular or capsule form, and the department is in the process of finalizing the process.

According to the department’s data, there are 26,000 severely malnourished children in the State, and it has set aside Rs. 3.6 crore (~$35,000USD) for administering the spirulina.

Officials claim that a pilot program carried out in association with JSW Foundation in Sandur taluk of Ballari over the past year brought malnutrition levels down from 45 per cent to 29 per cent. “The decision to extend it across the State was based on the success of this pilot program,” said Malathi S. Pol, Deputy Director (ICDS).

However, nutritionists and activists opposing the program say that spirulina is not a traditional food in India, and has never been advocated for child feeding. They said such attempts will only help create a market for spirulina.

Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of the Hyderbad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), said what pre-schoolers need are wholesome balanced meals. “By trying to substitute vitamins and nutrients with a dietary supplement, the government is making a mockery of the idea of child nutrition. This is the age when their taste buds are activated and they start relishing the food they eat,” she said.

The debate rages over a wholesome meal or a dietary capsule for malnourished children in India. “Even the National Food Security Act, 2013, mandates that under ICDS children should be given local food to meet their nutritional needs. We demand that the program be dropped,” said Swarna Bhat, a member of the Right to Food Campaign. “Instead let them give eggs and bananas to all children.”

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