Making the Most of the First 1,000 Days: Supporting Child Nutrition in Kerala

The first 1,000 days are a critical window of opportunity to give a child the best possible start in life for good nutrition for cognitive and physical development. WFP and the government of Kerala are helping parents give their children this essential boost with food distributed through social safety nets.

The southern state of Kerala has some of the lowest malnutrition rates in India – but according to WHO standards, the rates are still unacceptably high. Nearly a quarter of children under five (24.1 percent) are wasted, while one in five is underweight (20.9 percent) or stunted (22.7 percent). While nutrient deficiencies affect people of all ages, it is particularly high and worrisome for children between the ages of one and three years.,

National response to child malnutrition

One of the main programmes to address malnutrition in India is the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

In the ICDS programme, state governments provide a comprehensive package of services to pregnant women and new mothers, as well as to children under the age of six. Take-home rations to supplement children’s diets are an important part of this programme,.

In Kerala, under the ICDS programme, children between the ages of six months and three years are given a blended food locally known as nutri-mix or amrutham at their local anganwadi centers.

Produced by women’s self-help groups known as neighborhood groups, nutri-mix is a non-fortified product that meets the caloric and protein content norms laid down by the Government of India. The programme reaches nearly three quarters (73 percent) of children of this age group.

Now WFP is using its global food fortification expertise to work with the Government of Kerala to pilot the fortification of nutri-mix with additional vitamins and minerals.

From blended food to super food

WFP plans to set up and run a demonstration fortification unit within an existing nutri-mix production unit located in Wayanad, Kerala. During this first phase of the pilot, the unit will reach 2,779 children with fortified nutri-mix.

At the same time, WFP will also determine what it would take to scale up production to reach all children aged six months to three years in Kerala with the more nutritious product. WFP and the Government of Kerala expect to reach universal coverage of fortified nutri-mix by 2018.

Cost To The Community

The impact of child malnutrition can be felt not just by children themselves, but also by their families and community.

Malnourished children are much more likely to suffer from infections and permanent impairments, and have a greater chance of dying from common childhood illnesses. Malnourished children may not perform as well as co their well-nourished peers at school, and as adults they are less productive and earn lower wages. Widespread child malnutrition obstructs a nation’s socio-economic development.

According to estimates from the Global Nutrition Report 2016, economic consequences of malnutrition represent losses of up to 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year in Africa and Asia.