Adolescence is a critical period of growth and development and offers us an important entry point for delivering essential nutrition services to disrupt the inter-generational cycle of undernutrition. An adolescent girl who is well nourished is more likely to perform well in school and be more empowered as an adult woman than her poorly nourished counterpart, which enhances her family and child care-taking capacity later in life as a mother. She is also more likely to give birth to a healthy baby if she delays the age of marriage and pregnancy, and is already well nourished. This in turn improves her child's chances of survival, physical growth and brain development, with significant health and economic benefits across the lifetime, thereby breaking the cycle of under-nutrition and poverty.
Almost 88% of the world's adolescents (between the age of 10 and 19) live in developing countries, with India accounting for around 243 million, more than any other country. They are at risk of performing poorly in school, especially if they are anemic, hence diminishing their economic productivity later in life. Studies show that a large proportion of India's adolescent girls are anaemic. Another cause for worry is that these young people are vulnerable a host of other diseases and problems if their nutrition levels are not optimised.
Building on 13 years of UNICEF-supported evidence generation on the use of weekly iron and folic acid supplementation in adolescent girls in different Indian states, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has launched a nationwide Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation Programme. Targeting 130 million adolescent boys and girls, the services delivered under the scheme include weekly iron and folic acid supplementation, bi-annual deworming and nutrition counselling on how to improve diets to prevent anaemia. Sections of society that are more prone to under-nutrition should be carefully identified and monitored to ensure that timely and targeted interventions can be delivered.
UNICEF provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the designing and implementation of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (adolescent reproductive and sexual health programme). This programme works across India to improve the health and wellbeing of adolescent girls and boys, married and unmarried, poor and affluent, whether they are in or out of school or in rural or urban areas. As part of this programme, parents of adolescents are counselled on the importance of nutrition, hygiene and gender equality for the health and wellbeing of adolescents.
Furthermore, UNICEF is working with the government towards strengthening "Village Health and Nutrition Days", where adolescents receive supplementary nutrition, counselling on nutrition and hygiene, and routine immunisation services.
UNICEF India is supporting the national nutrition supplement scheme, targeting 14 major states in India, which jointly have 88% of India's adolescent girls. It includes counselling on healthy food habits, hygienic and correct cooking practices and checking for anaemia; this will help in disrupting the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.