The Covid 19 lockdown 2020 in India caused disruptions that negatively impacted women’s nutrition, according to a new study by the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition.
The study published in journal Economia Politica showed that women’s dietary diversity (number of food groups consumed declined during the lockdown period when compared to the same period in 2019. The study gave serious concern to the drop in consumption of foods like eggs, meats, fruits and vegetables that are rich in micronutrients.
On the Study, research economist at TCI Soumya Gupta pointed out that women’s diets lacked in diverse foods even before the pandemic. However, the pandemic further exacerbated the situation, the researcher said, Gupta coauthored the study along with TCI director Prabhu Pingali, assistant director Mathew Abraham, and consultant Payal Seth. The researchers opined that policies envisaged for addressing the impact of Covid 19 pandemic on nutritional outcomes should go through a gendered lens that reflects the specific, and often persistent, vulnerabilities faced by women.
In the study, the researchers looked at food expenditures, dietary diversity and other nutrition indicators at the national, state and district levels in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha.
The study found that food expenditures significantly declined during Covid 19 lockdown especially in less developed districts. It said that almost 90 per cent of the respondents in the survey reported having less food. Meanwhile, 95 per cent said they consumed fewer types of food. The study also found that expenditures returned to pre-lockdown levels in June 2020 at the national and state levels but remained low at the district level. The authors noted a decrease in the quantity and quality of nutritious foods consumed by women during Covid 19 period. Inthye survey, some women said that they halved the amount of dal, or red lentils, that they prepared or that they prepared thinner dals. Gupta pointed out that the decline in women’s diet diversity combined with a likely decrease in quantities consumed showed a greater risk for micronutrient malnutrition as compared to before the pandemic. She also said that the spill over effects of maternal malnutrition also posed a threat to their children. The study also showed that nutrition security declined across the board during the period. The number of women consuming vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables dropped by 42 per cent, the researchers said in the study.
Many factors like gender differences in food allocation across the world, including income, bargaining power social status, interpersonal relationships, tastes and preferences are associated with food consumption Uneven food allocation within households has also been associated with the role of women in different family systems, including women eating after all other members have eaten. They also pointed out that Indian women eat less diverse diets than their households. The report also mentioned that closure of anganwadi centers during the lockdown led to unequal burden on women. The centers, which provide take home rations and hot cooked meals to nursing and expecting mothers are on important source of nutrition for women and children.
According to the study, 72 per cent of eligible households lost access to those services during the pandemic. In the study, the researchers suggested that the policy makers should recognize the disproportionate impact of Covid 19 pandemic and other disruptive events on women’s nutrition by bolstering safety-net programs to ensure they meet the needs of women and other marginalized groups. They also recommended market-oriented reforms like removal of rules that restrict the movement of products between markets and state boundaries, commercialization of small farms, and investments in infrastructure like refrigerated supply chains.
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