Gender differential in dietary quality is all the more among adolescents, shows a new study
Rahul Dass | April 27, 2016 | New Delhi
Girls getting less food than boys was always considered a societal stereotype in India. A study has shown that it is unfortunately true. It has also highlighted a key deficiency in our policy approach by identifying that the difference in dietary quality takes place around 15 years of age and also helped explain why a healthy girl child turns into an under-nourished woman.
The issue of female health is hugely important for a country like India, which is home to the world’s largest youth population. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), there are a mind-boggling 356 million people in the 10-24 year age group in India, making it over a quarter of the total 1.2 billion populace. It is way ahead of China which has 269 million young people.
The study, titled 'Do Boys Eat Better Than Girls in India?' by Elisabetta Aurino, a research fellow in the School of Public Health at Imperial College, London, and research associate at Young Lives, has documented the evolution of gender gaps in dietary diversity and the consumption of different foods for two cohorts at different ages.
“While no gender-based disparities in dietary quality occur at 5, 8 and 12 years old, a wide pro-boy gap emerges at age 15. Specifically, mid-adolescent girls tend to consume fewer protein- and vitamin-rich foods such as eggs, legumes, root vegetables, fruit and meat. This result is robust to gender differences between adolescents in terms of puberty onset, and dietary behaviours,” the paper said.
The study will particularly help policy makers who were left perplexed by the under-nourishment in Indian women, despite the girl child being healthy in the initial years.
In fact, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) for 2015-16, which was released by the union health ministry in January, shows that more than half of the children in 10 out of 15 states are still anaemic and distressingly, it also showed that more than half of women were anaemic in as many as 11 states.
Aurino’s research is significant in the Indian context as the country is increasingly being burdened with under-nourishment among children. The policy makers have been laying stress on improving the female health in an effort to break the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.
Health of adolescent and women is a priority area for the central government, which has been running several schemes to ensure that the young get adequate attention. It is particularly so for women in the child-bearing age so that they are not malnourished -- and hunger and its adverse impact is not on passed to the next generation.
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