The World Health Organisation (WHO)–a UN agency concerned with public health at the international level–was founded on 7th April, 1948. In order to commemorate its founding, it was decided to observe 7th April as the World Health Day. While the WHO uses the day to spread awareness about some health issue of major importance, the same is also used by various organisations working in the field of public health to draw people’s attention to issues of concern and put forth some solutions. In India, hunger and malnutrition are two such issues, and the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is one of the solutions.
On 28th November, 2001, the Supreme Court of India directed the State Governments “to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government-aided primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 g of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.” The stipulated nutritional content has since been raised to 450 calories and 12 g protein for children in primary schools and 700 calories and 20 g protein for children in upper-primary schools.
Mid-day Meal and Children’s Health
In a country where malnutrition is rampant, 450 calories a day come as a blessing in disguise; all the more so because at times this is the lone meal many of these children afford. If malnutrition levels in India have dropped from 42.5% in 2005-06 to 30% in 2013-14, it’s partly because of feeding initiatives like the MDMS and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Mid-day meal guidelines also state that the meals served should supply micronutrients like iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin A, etc., to the beneficiaries, thus making it a wholesome meal necessary for proper growth. It’s important to provide nutrient-rich healthy food to children, as the lack of these nutrients can result in problems like stunting (low height-for-age) and wasting (low weight-for-age).
The meals are prepared after taking specific guidelines into consideration to make sure that children get necessary nutrients. In some states, a list of recipes is provided and the schools are expected to pick one every day, whilst being careful not to repeat it that week. In some states, the vegetables used to prepare meals are repeated on a daily basis.
School teachers are testimony to the change the MDM programme has brought about, especially in the context of children’s health. Earlier, many children used to reach school on an empty stomach; at times, even having missed their previous night’s dinner. As a result, it was difficult for them to concentrate on what they were being taught in school. Since the implementation of MDMS, students are faring better in academics as their concentration has improved.
Lack of a nutritious meal on a daily basis made children weak and thus, prone to missing school. The improvement in nutrition levels of children because of MDMS has translated into reduced absenteeism and dropout rates. With examples like these, it’s but obvious that the mid-day meal is of utmost importance for these people.
Good Hygiene – Sound Health
Mid-day meals are not just directly contributing to the health and nutrition of children, but also helping indirectly by inculcating good habits in them. According to the new MDM guidelines, it’s mandatory for all schools serving mid-day meals to allocate hand washing time as a part of the school timetable in order to ensure that children wash their hands with soap both, before and after their meal. Hand washing is a hygienic practice which helps keep several diseases at bay. Studies reveal that washing hands with soap reduces the likelihood of diarrhoea by a whopping 48 percent.
The best part is that the MDMS is having a positive impact on both, health and education sectors. In the education sector, it acts as a perfect incentive to bring children to school. In fact, there are cases where school-going children are accompanied by their younger siblings for that one nutritious meal. It’s worth noting that the Public-private Partnership with Non-Governmental Organisations, like the Akshaya Patra Foundation, is helping the State Governments to feed hungry children across the country.
At the end of the day, it’s safe to say that it’s because of the MDMS that children, who would have otherwise been working to support their family, can now have a nutritious meal … and dare to pursue their dreams. So why not use this World Health Day to further the cause and help the concerned agencies to reach more children.