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Survey reveals why rural women offer biscuits to their children for breakfast


A women’s voluntary group working is helping counter malnutrition among children in 30 villages of Belagavi district in Karnataka. They are creating awareness among mothers about malnutrition and nutritious food

A women’s voluntary group working is helping counter malnutrition among children in 30 villages of Belagavi district in Karnataka. They are creating awareness among mothers about malnutrition and nutritious food

Members of Jagruti Mahila Okkoota, who were on a door-to-door survey on the food habits in some villages of Belagavi district in Karnataka, found that women were giving biscuit and tea to their children for breakfast while they ate roti or rice before setting out for work.

A simple intervention — of asking mothers to replace biscuit with home-cooked roti or rice — has gone a long way in ensuring the children get better nutrition.

Simple tweaks of this kind, made by the women’s voluntary group working in the field of health, is part of a campaign to fight malnutrition among children in 30 villages of Belagavi district in Karnataka. They are creating awareness among mothers about malnutrition by organising mothers’ meets in villages, interacting with anganwadi workers and training mothers in preparing nutritious food for their children using easily available material.

In the first phase, activists went door-to-door for a survey of malnourished children. Around 30 activists of the Okkoota have been working in 30 villages in Kittur and Khanapur taluks for nine months. Around 800 children were covered in the survey with the target being families from marginal, landless, and other oppressed communities.

Malnourished children were categorised using the WHO growth chart that lays down parameters based on age, height and weight.

Severely malnourished children were identified and their mothers were counselled. The teachers and workers in the anganwadis that these children attended, were also involved.

Sharada Gopal, co-founder, said a major challenge was fighting misconceptions about nutrition, such as the belief that food purchased from stores has more nutrient value.

“Most believed that extra nutrition came from buying expensive items. We had to tell them it was all about rearrangement of time of eating and the balance between grains, greens and milk products,’’ says Rajeshwari Joshi, another activist.

Activists trained a few mothers in making laddus of groundnut and jaggery. These women, in turn, trained others, resulting in greater awareness against junk food.

Impact of intervention

Apart from the tools of intervention, the project brought forth two interesting findings: Children who had received 2 to 3 eggs per week did not show malnutrition. The State Government supplies two eggs per week.

The team found that levels of malnutrition were nearly the same across categories, like gender of the child, educational status of the mothers, and caste. All poor children were found to suffer from this malady.

A follow-up survey revealed that the intervention had significant effects.

In the first survey, 106 of the sample size of 410 children were found to be severely malnourished in Khanapur taluk. But this was reduced to 57 by the end of nine months of intervention. In Kittur taluk, 62 out of 360 children were found severely malnourished. This number dropped to 30 by the end of the same period.

“Our effort was to explore local remedies that a poor rural woman could find using resources easily available to her,’’ said Gopal Dabde, co-founder of the group.

Powder for children is used as cow feed

Jagruti Mahila Okkoota found that that most packets of ‘Pushti’, a nutrition supplement that families with young children get each month as an Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, were being fed to cows and buffaloes. The households explained that whenever they fed the powder to children, they suffered from diarrhoea.

The powder is supplied from the time a child turns six months old up to the time the child is over 40 months old.

Rajeshwari Joshi says, “We found that the nutrition supplement mixture had coarse groundnut powder that was difficult for young children to digest. We asked them to use it after sifting the fine powder. We also taught them to make Chikkis using the coarse mix.’’



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