Need to fight malnutrition for inclusive growth: President

New Delhi: Terming the rising malnutrition figures in India as a wake-up call, President Pranab Mukherjee today said checking it alone can help the country achieve the target of sustained and inclusive growth.

Launching the first-ever national Information, Education and Communication (IEC) campaign against malnutrition in India, the President called for a concerted drive against malnutrition and said utmost priority must be accorded to prevent it.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has earlier described malnutrition as a "national shame".

"This is disturbing.... These figures are a wakeup call for all of us and underline the need for concerted drive against malnutrition, and until we ensure good nutrition and health for our children and their mothers we cannot achieve our targets of sustained and inclusive growth," Mukherjee said.

Challenged by shocking levels of malnutrition among children below five years in India, 42 per cent of whom are underweight, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has roped in actor Aamir Khan and ace lyricist Prasoon Joshi to steer the awareness campaign through advertisements in all mediums - radio, print and television.

The campaign to be launched in 18 languages will see Aamir communicate the importance of good nutrition to the people and giving them tips on simple and easy ways of checking malnutrition.

Mukherjee said "utmost priority must be accorded to prevent malnutrition, as early as possible and across the life cycle, to avert irreversible cumulative deficit in our growth and development. We must do our utmost, at a time when Indian economy is on a strong positive growth trajectory."

Describing his engagement in shaping the campaign as a great learning experience as this was not easy communication, Aamir Khan said, "If our children are not healthy then we start on a back foot".

Aamir said the country needs to fight malnutrition and this campaign would generate dthe esired response so that malnutrition quits India.

"If you love the country, you need to associate with this campaign," he said, adding, "how will India be a superpower if children suffer from malnutrition."

He exhorted people to join the campaign and help eradicate malnutrition which affects almost 42.5 per cent children below the age of five years.

Mukherjee earlier said "this anomaly is indefensible at a time when we are making rapid strides on other fronts."

Lauding the initiative which was launched on the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he said, "It is an important and timely initiative. It is a matter of concern that every third woman is under-nourished and every second woman is anaemic. Two out of five children (42.5 per cent) of children are underweight. This is disturbing."

Much of the awareness campaign will have Khan drive home the message of healthy eating, considering a recent study which found shocking results for all three standard indices used to measure children`s nutritional status.

The study found 59 per cent of India`s children stunted (lower height for their age), 42 per cent underweight (lower weight for their age) and 11 per cent wasted (lower weight than their height).

Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath, said the campaign would create greater sensitivity for women and children in society and bring about a behavioural change which will inspire the masses to understand their responsibilities and deliver their duties. She hoped the fight against malnutrition would reach from every anganwadi centre to each and every family and person.

Others who also spoke included Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development Prem Narain, lyricist Prasoon Joshi and UNICEF country head Louis-Georges Arsenualt, while HRD Minister Pallam Raju was also present.

The malnutrition campaign will be rolled out in an evolutionary manner of four stages. While first stage will create awareness on symptoms of malnutrition for a period of eight weeks, the second stage gives a clarion call and is spread over six weeks.

In Stage 3, there are key messages on basic critical practices for maternal and child care as prevention from malnutrition and Stage 4 will inform the public about acquiring services and Mother Child Protection card.

Malnutrition among children and women has been a grave concern for the country and it was the decision of the Prime Minister`s Council on India`s Nutrition Challenges that one of the best strategies to combat the problem of malnutrition would be to educate and empower the families and mothers on better care of their children.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development, taking this decision forward, has designed the campaign with technical support of UNICEF.