'FeFA girls': An initiative to address Malnutrition

Adolescence is a transitional phase from childhood to adulthood when an individual, through a process of intense physiological, psychological, social, and economic change, gradually come to be recognized as adults. The adolescent population in a society constitute a critical segment as the future demographic, social, economic and political developments of the entire population depend on them. Imparting education and enhancing the technical skills of this segment of the population has far reaching implications on economic prosperity. All this can be achieved when the adolescents get proper nutrition and thereby, have good health.

According to census 2011, India, has 253.2 million adolescent population. Unicef–India reports that a large proportion of India’s adolescents are anaemic: 56 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys. Anaemia among adolescents adversely affects their growth, immunity, cognitive development and productivity. In this backdrop, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MHFW) launched a nationwide Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme in January 2013. WIFS is based on 13 years of evidence-generated through pilots and phased scale-ups by UNICEF on the use of weekly iron and folic acid supplementation to address anaemia in adolescent girls in different Indian states.

Furthermore, the WIFS programme targets 130 million adolescent boys and girls and is implemented jointly by three ministries, Health, Education and Women and Child Development.

The services delivered under the scheme include:

•Weekly iron and folic acid supplementation;

•bi-annual deworming; and

•Nutrition education about how to improve diet, prevent anaemia and minimize the potential side-effects of IFA supplementation and deworming.

On 15th March, 2019, the NIN and ICRISAT launched ‘Fe FA Girls’ an initiative to tackle malnutrition among girls, with an aim to prepare diet based approach to improve haemoglobin and blood iron levels in girls and to generate scientific evidences on nutritional benefits of groundnut and pearl millet on human health. ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) will work in partnership with the Government of Telangana to address these important issues.’FeFA Girls “Iron For Adolescents” (Fe: symbol of Iron; FA: For Adolescent), the project will reach out to adolescent girls aged 16-19 from selected social welfare hostels in Telangana to address iron deficiency and poor dietary fibre intake. Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, said,“Our approach is to use practical food-based solutions using crops rich in iron and dietary fibres that have been shown to improve the gut microbiome composition. We aim to achieve overall improvement of iron biomarkers naturally in adolescent girls with mild to moderate iron deficiency”.

In India, the state of J&K holds 19th rank, having 26, 51,315 adolescent population. The male adolescent population being 13, 85,217 and females 12, 66,098 respectively. The State of J&K has no better picture to present in terms of adolescent girls’ health; most of the girls suffer from mild to moderate anaemia. Initiatives like ’Fe FA Girls’ is a welcome step and should also be launched here to combat this nutritional problem. State Health Ministry should collaborate with civil society organizations to broaden the range of services for out-of-school adolescents and support state governments in providing nutrition education, life skills and vocational training services should be imparted to adolescents. Technical help can be sought from Community Nutritionists, Dieticians, Food Technologists and Research institutions like, Institute of Home Science and Department of Food Technology, University of Kashmir for developing diet plans, recipies, foods and engineering certain foods for such vulnerable groups.

The author is Sr. Research Fellow Institute of Home Science, University of Kashmir