Today is world’s Food day. World Food Day is celebrated on October 16 each year. On Monday this year, the world will celebrate World Food Day 2023, which encourages action for the future of food, people, and the environment and awareness of hunger. For this year, the theme of World Food Day is – Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind. “Water is essential to life on Earth. It covers the majority of the Earth’s surface, makes up over 50% of our bodies, produces our food, and supports livelihoods.

Recently the World Hunger Index ranking 2023 has been published. The opening remarks of the report are mentioned below.

As we approach 2030, just seven years from the Sustainable Development Goals deadline, almost three-quarters of a billion people lack access to adequate food. Hunger persists, driven by known factors. However, we now grapple with a “polycrisis” era, marked by compounding challenges, including climate change, conflicts, economic shocks, the global pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war, which have exacerbated inequalities and hampered progress against hunger.

Youth today will endure the repercussions of inaction for decades

The 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI) reveals that global hunger progress, despite earlier gains, has stagnated since 2015. Crises continue to intensify, leading to increased severe hunger, especially among vulnerable groups like women and youth. This year’s GHI report examines how current food systems fail the youth, who are inheriting unsustainable, inequitable, and climate-vulnerable systems. Wendy Geza and Mendy Ndlovu, scholars from South Africa, emphasize that today’s youth will bear the consequences of these actions or inaction for decades.

Firstly let us look at the ranking of India in this index. At 111 position the report doesn’t seem to have justice in assessing the true ranking of India . As per Amit Shukla Founder and CEO ,Easy Gov (A pioneer organisation in E governance) our expenditure on food related welfare schemes is 3+ lac crore. The food schemes has least corruption post Direct Benefit Schemes ( DBT) , thus may be considered to do justice with the delivery part. Mid Day Meal covers almost all students, free ration covers all families, government run kitchens provide cooked food in many states and PDS supports EWS families, says Shukla.

What does Poshan Tracker data says ?

A staggering 3.25 crore children in India, roughly 39% of those under six years of age in over 13.9 lakh anganwadi centers, are grappling with stunting. Furthermore, approximately 6% (43 lakh) of children under five are affected by severe or moderate malnourishment, a number parallel to the count of obese children in these centers. This is similar to the number of obese children across these centres, 6 per cent or 43 lakh. As many as 1.5 crore children under the age of six in these centres are underweight.

Surprisingly, World Hunger Index 2023 (as shown below) on the other hand is showing a data of 18.7% for wasting as against only 6% as per the Poshan tracker.

Additionally, 1.5 crore children under the age of six in these centers are underweight. This data, collected in August from 13.96 lakh anganwadi centers, monitors the health and nutrition of 8.33 crore children under six, with measurements taken through the Poshan Tracker ICT application as shown below. The centers also provide hot-cooked meals and supplementary nutrition to these children.

Poshan creates data from 94.54% Aadhar verified beneficiary data so integrity of data is of highest standard as shown below.

India as a Food production Powerhouse

India is the largest producer of milk and second largest producer of wheat and rice, the world’s major food staples. India is currently the world’s second largest producer of several dry fruits, agriculture-based textile raw materials, roots and tuber crops, pulses, farmed fish, eggs, coconut, sugarcane and numerous vegetables.

On this world food day , instead of debating on whether our rank in World Food index is justified or not, I would like to focus on the role of milk in improving the health status of our children in future. So we need to examine the role of dairy in national policy while developing dietary guidelines.

Role of dairy in national Dietary guidelines

In a seminal article (link provided below)-Roughly 100 countries have their own national dietary guidelines, essential for local health and alignment with global sustainability initiatives. However, these guidelines lack standardization, varying considerably across countries and food groups.

The research article as cited below review focuses on dairy food group recommendations in 94 national guidelines, categorizing by region. Underconsumption messaging centers on calcium, vitamin D, iodine, potassium, and protein, while overconsumption concerns relate to saturated fat, added sugars, and salt. Health-based dairy messaging covers bone, teeth, muscle health; cardiometabolic outcomes; and gut and immune health. Although aiming to provide food pattern-based dietary guidance, these guidelines often stress nutrient content, notably calcium.

Dairy foods constitute a distinct group in about three-quarters of Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs). In other cases, they are typically part of broader categories, such as “protein” or “foods from animals,” alongside meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts, and legumes. FBDGs generally encompass diverse dairy options, including various milks, cheeses, yogurts, kefirs, and more.

While cow’s milk is the common recommendation worldwide, some countries endorse dairy from other animal sources or include plant-based alternatives fortified for nutritional equivalence. Some FBDGs also provide recommendations for varying fat, sugar, protein, and sodium intake and suggest preferences for certain dairy products (e.g., fermented, unprocessed, vitamin D fortified, pasteurized, probiotic).

Link for the research article “Global Review of Dairy Recommendations in Food-Based Dietary Guidelines” :

Milk positioning in Asia and India

In the Asia and Pacific region, covering 17 countries (53% of the region’s countries), most Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) designate dairy as a separate food group with prominent messaging promoting dairy consumption or offering specific dairy recommendations. Typically, these guidelines suggest 1–2 servings per day, although Australia and New Zealand advocate for higher intake of 2.5–4 servings daily, depending on age and gender. Common dairy messaging emphasizes choosing low-fat or fat-free options, leveraging dairy for its calcium content, and enhancing overall dietary patterns by incorporating dairy alongside nutrient-rich foods. The reasons for recommending dairy vary across the region; for instance, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Fiji, dairy is primarily endorsed for bone and dental health, while India highlights its role in “body building” and as a “protective” food.

Vitamin A, Zinc and Iodine are amongst the under-communicated benefits of dairy

Of the 12 dairy-derived nutrients (protein, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12, vitamin D (in products fortified with vitamin D), choline, calcium, iodine, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc) mentioned in global FBDGs, six are consistently underconsumed worldwide. Notably, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc deficiencies are widespread, primarily affecting low- and middle-income regions, while calcium, potassium, and vitamin D are public health concerns in industrialized regions like North America. FBDGs primarily emphasize calcium, vitamin D, iodine, potassium, and protein, with limited attention to addressing the scarcity of essential nutrients like vitamins A and zinc. Focusing on foods rich in these deficient nutrients in FBDGs could significantly enhance public health efforts to combat undernutrition.

Production of milk is not related to consumption of milk

In one of the research study conducted by Suruchi Consultants in West Bengal in India we found that certain districts with highest milk production levels were also showing high levels of malnourishment.

It could be seen above that the Top milk producing districts of West Bengal, like Murshidabad, Bardhaman, North 24 Parganas and Paschim Mednapur are amongst the highest in all factors of malnourishment. Ironically Howrah with the highest milk production in the state is amongst the top 4 districts in severe wasting. Similar situations might be prevailing in other states also.

Using Poshan as a conduit for the last mile delivery

In conclusion, it’s evident that the key to improving India’s malnutrition situation lies in the last-mile delivery of milk to the most vulnerable populations. The challenge doesn’t lie in food production but in its effective distribution. Policy makers should prioritize increasing the accessibility of milk to these at-risk groups before focusing on policies to boost milk production. Just a 240 ml glass of milk can address approximately 30% of the body’s calcium needs. Let’s start by ensuring that everyone has access to this glass of milk. For doing so Poshan through Anaganwadis could act as an official conduit for milk availability to nearly 100 million children.

At the end I recommend to develop a youth led campaign to promote milk as an essential food on this world’s Food day. With almost 85% water, milk is also aligned with the theme of this year’s world milk day.