India has world's third-highest number of billionaires. But at the same time, hidden hunger – micro-nutrient deficiency – continues to be a major public health issue. Today, India has an astounding 190 million undernourished people , the highest in the world. About 47.5 million Indian children under-5 years are stunted -again, the most in the world.

Clearly, the writing is on the wall. Malnutrition and lack of proper nutrition are enormous problems. The time is now to get India nutrition ready, if we need to reap the benefits of our demographic dividend.

In the last couple of years, there have been progressive conversations with reference to nutrition. From acknowledging micro-nutrient deficiency in the National Health Policy for the first time after 15 long years, to the recently drafted Food Fortification Regulations, 2018, a lot of positive steps have been taken by GoI, the most prominent one being the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) launched this year.

National Nutrition Mission (NNM)

NNM has been hailed as a comprehensive approach towards raising nutrition level in the country on a war footing. That's evident from the budgetary allocation of over Rs 9,000 crore towards this mission to be used in the next three years.

But there's lots more to be done, and it can not be the responsibility of the government alone. One needs to co-opt the overall ecosystem comprising corporates, academia, think tanks, health experts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

For starters, it is all about creating awareness of that fact that malnutrition is not restricted to social class, availability or lack of food. An Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry-EY report released in January 2018 highlights how India continues to consume non-nutritious, non-balanced food, either in the form of under-nutrition, over-nutrition or micro-nutrient deficiencies. So, we need to address the situation at two levels: by providing authentic information, and by improving the availability and accessibility of nutritious food.

Malnutrition is not apparent, as a child may appear healthy, even though she is suffering from the inside because of micro-nutrient deficiency. This is not just limited to kids in rural India but it is also deep-rooted among urban children. The report also highlighted that nearly 4% of India's GDP is estimated to have been lost due to malnutrition.

There is a critical need to create a pool of experts-validated information on nutrition that's accessible to all. This can help mothers to not only provide the right nutrition to children, but also help recover from malnutrition. Fortification can be another sustainable, cost-effective and scalable way to ensure quicker growth.

Accessibility to nutrition

The other aspect that needs attention is accessibility to nutrition. A new World Bank working paper highlights that the rising prices of nutritious food items is adding to India's malnutrition burden. This is where GoI and corporates need to come together to devise a strategy that provides affordable nutrient-dense foods, including fortified products, across urban and rural India. However, development has to be holistic. Accessibility should not be restricted to just nutritious foods, but also for clean water, toilets and good hygiene.

Finally, it is most important to measure the impact of interventions. This can done through various ways, like information and communication technology (ICT) -based real-time monitoring systems, incentivising States for meeting targets, incentivizing anganwadi workers for using IT-based tools, and having social audits.