IIT-Bombay researchers develop fortified food to reduce malnutrition
Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay have created a combination of fortified foods that can help reduce malnutrition among children. Micronutrient Fortified Foods (MFF) are foods enriched with micronutrients including vitamins and minerals.
Researchers from the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) and the department of Humanities and Social Sciences have developed packets of premix MFF. The efficacy of these packets was studied over a period of six months by members from IIT-Bombay, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Sion, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA).
Researchers found that MFF premix packets were more efficient in reducing malnutrition as compared to the packets distributed by the state government. Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed Pediatric Oncall Journal last year.
Almost 69% deaths in children below the age of five in India are caused by malnutrition, a 2019 Unicef report found. The government of India has launched a flurry of schemes to address malnutrition among children including mid-day meal scheme. However, these schemes are more suitable for children in rural areas, said experts.
Niti Aayog, the country’s premiere planning agency, has also highlighted the need for revising the nutrient content and food composition of the foods given to children aged between six and 36 months.
One of the measures is to provide soya flour or gram flour fortified with micronutrients such as zinc, iron and calcium and vitamins A and C. These flours are distributed as take-home rations which are prepared and eaten as porridge at home. The bag of flour is often shared among the family.
“Government agencies generally tend to take a one-size fits all approach. Though easier to implement logistically, it is not effective most of the time,” said D Parthasarathy, professor in the HSS department, who was a part of the study.
In Mumbai, researchers conducted a study by distributing take-home packets among children in 300 anganwadis in Dharavi. They carefully selected a set of food items for the fortified food product development by identifying diets and food consumption of children in households in Mumbai such as upma, kheer and zunka. They designed the fortified foods as seven-in-one packets for each child to consume. The nutrient profile and shelf life were also analysed by IIT-Bombay researchers.
Children in the six-24 months age group received a seven-in-one1 packet of MFF consisting upma premix, ladoo premix, ragi porridge premix, wheat payasam premix, kheer premix and two packets of ready-to-use multigrain flour. Older children, in the age group of 25-60 months, received a mix of semi-solid and finger foods providing 450- 500 kCal and 12-15g proteins. The seven-in-one packet for these children included upma, ladoo, zunka premixes and nankhatai.
After three months of offering these packets, researchers screened the children and found that the number of children with malnutrition had reduced by 39.2% in the group that used researchers’ fortified food and by 33% in the group that used take-home rations. Owing to the variety, researchers’ fortified foods were also more popular with 75%-80% of the packets consumed.
Shankar Das, professor and dean of the School of Health Systems Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences-Mumbai who was not a part of the study, said, “Underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition among children in large pockets of India have often been attributed to verifiable factors such as poverty, social inequity, lack of access to food, sickness, conflicts, a climate emergency and lack of safe drinking water. Recent studies report that Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam have the highest malnutrition levels in the country despite the substantial drop-in morbidity and mortality rate.”
“The fact that malnutrition has not substantially reduced in Maharashtra can be a basis for developing alternatives for the take-home rations. It can be a basis to look for other follow up mechanisms to bring down malnutrition,” said Narendra Shah, professor, CTARA, who is one of the first authors of the study.
“At the micro-level, efforts should be dedicated to improving the involvement of the communities. It is vital to enhance their awareness of the importance of nutritious food, where more women should be educated on a home-based low-cost nutritious diet. The communities must be educated to build understanding on the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding and how bad feeding and hygiene practices can affect children’s growth. This is particularly important in the present era of the coronavirus pandemic where children and mothers hailing from poor households need constant support and necessary resources to help them to endure and survive these adversities,” said Das.