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Despite the provision of midday meals, malnutrition in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)-run schools stands at a significant 34 per cent, with 64,681 of 1.89 lakh screened children found malnourished in 2015-16. The malnourishment status has worsened over the past three years, showing a rise of over five times since 2013.
Government data accessed by NGO Praja under the Right to Information Act shows that while health screening has improved in BMC-run schools, cases of malnutrition in students of Class I to Class X have gone up from 11,831 in 2013-14 to 53,408 in 2014-15 and 64,681 in 2015-16.
The city’s 1,195 BMC-run schools conduct annual detailed health check-ups of their students and categorise a child as malnourished based on World Health Organization guidelines.
In 2015-26, the BMC had a budget expenditure of Rs 46 crore for midday meals for students of Class I to Class VIII. The civic body has tied up with 147 self-help groups to provide cooked meals to children. One meal is supposed to have 450 gms of calories and 12 gms of protein, apart from micro-nutrients. BMC education officer Mahesh Palkar said a child stays in school for six hours, which are not enough to feed him for the entire day. “A midday meal is only supplementary. It is not the only source of nutrition a child requires in a day. They need proper meals even at home,” he said.
According to the report, the worst areas are Govandi and Santacruz East, where 51 per cent of the screened students were found malnourished, followed by Chembur with 44 per cent. Govandi also shows the lowest human development index in Mumbai, with anaemia and incidences of diarrhoea higher than other wards.
“The issue of malnutrition has not been raised enough by corporators, with only 13 corporators asking questions on it,” said Nitai Mehta, founder of Praja, adding that budget cuts in Integrated Child Development System (ICDS) this year will further hamper the malnutrition battle.
The BMC figures of students aged between six to 14 years coupled with ICDS figures of malnourished children aged less than six years takes the entire toll of malnutrition in Mumbai to at least 1.15 lakh. In 2015-16, 51,934 children were diagnosed as malnourished across 5,130 anganwadi centers in Mumbai.
“There is need for impact assessment of various schemes already out there to fight malnutrition. Wards such as Mankhurd and Govandi need special attention as they have worst socio-economic factors,”said Milind Mhaske, project director at Praja.
The report further showed that malnourishment affected younger children more, with 73 per cent of children between Class I to Class V found battlling it, as opposed to 27 per cent between Class VI to Class IX.
According to the BMC, screening of 1.89 lakh students showed that at least 5,579 had Vitamin A deficiency while 4,730 had Vitamin B,C and D deficiency. A high number of children suffer from anaemia, with 13,684 diagnosed cases.
“It is a vicious cycle. Adolescent anaemic pregnant woman give birth to malnourished infants. Unless there is intervention at some point, malnourishment continues in childhood. Based on age to height ratio, calorie intake of each child varies, but a single midday meal is never sufficient,” said nutritionist Disha Gada, attached with Sion hospital.