A study suggests that Indian women consume 13 per cent less protein than men. While these numbers appear normal on the surface, given that women usually consume less protein than men, it is significant because a study by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) says that the average consumption of protein is 50% less than the required daily allowance (RDA).
Speaking to DNA, Tushar Vashisht, Co-founder & CEO, HealthifyMe, a health service that conducted the study on how much protein women consume said, “The energy contribution of protein, fats and carbohydrates for an Indian adult should be in the ratio of 20:30:50. When it comes to proteins though, the difference is particularly stark because women who consume 14.2% of protein in their diet are far behind the ideal range of 20% protein. Men on the other hand consume 16% of their energy from protein. (13% lesser than men).
According to the study, the disparity in protein consumption is highest in the north-eastern states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, followed by J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Punjab and Delhi. “The data has been collected from across 197,694 locations in India. While the consumer base is urban middle-class and upper middle class, top 8 cities constitute 39.7% of the sample while Tier 2 and Tier 3 constitute 60% of the sample size hence covering a wide breadth of socio-economic strata,” added Vashisht.
In a paper titled ‘India’s Protein Puzzle’, Madhu Pavaskar, Director, Research & Strategy, Financial Technologies (India) Limited, says that the daily consumption (availability) of pulses has sunk by a third over the past half a century, having dropped from 61 gm in 1961 to around 40 gm by 2011. “The fall in pulse consumption principally reflects the failure of pulse production to keep pace with population growth. Forlornly, it also seems to be a reflection of non-inclusive growth of the economy, with not much reduction in overall poverty. While the proportion of poor in the population may have declined, the absolute number of thosebelow the poverty line has been rising. The poor cannot buy either pulses or other protein products,” he wrote.
Women undernourishment also a caste problem
In a December 2016 paper by RICE Institute titled ‘Intergenerational effects of women’s status: Evidence from joint Indian households’, authors Diane Coffey, Reetika Khera, and Dean Spears addressed that apart from socioeconomic strata, caste and community also play a major role in women not getting the required food intake. “In rural India, women move to their husbands’ villages upon marriage, and typically into their husbands’ parents’ homes. In this context, at the time of marriage, women married to the older son are assigned higher social status than women married to the younger son. As a result, the lower-ranking woman may eat last and eat less, may engage in more strenuous work (even in pregnancy), may engage in work harmful to health (such as using an indoor traditional cook stove), and may face worse treatment by her in-laws who head the household in many small but palpable ways, such as being required to sit on the ground while other adults use chairs,” the paper says.
This study says that using this strategy, children of the ‘lower-ranking mother’ are about a third of a height-for-age standard deviation shorter than their cousins born to the ‘higher-ranking’ mother within the same joint household.
In an article she wrote citing her research paper in The Hindu, Coffey added, “Research shows that many Indian women start pregnancy underweight and gain little weight during pregnancy. This leads to low birth weight babies, high rates of neonatal mortality, and less successful breastfeeding. women’s undernourishment contributes substantially to India’s unacceptably high rates of child stunting.”
In 2011, the India Human Development Survey asked whether women eat last when the family sat down for a meal. “Answers to these questions have implications for nutrition because in households with a limited food budget, or where there is no refrigerator to store leftover food, the person who eats last very often gets less or lower quality food than people who eat before her,” Coffey added.
What the government needs to do
According to the National Sample Survey Report (2011-12), the workforce participation rates of male is 54.4% and female is 21.9%. As per the India Country Report, 2015 by Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation on the Millennium Development Goals, the percentage share of females in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector during 2011-12 increased to 19.3% which is higher than 18.6% reported during 2009-10 by National Sample Survey Organisation. While the Ministry of Women and Child Development has several schemes that works towards the betterment of lives of women on paper, there is still that needs to be done in practice.
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