India is home to 253 million adolescents (10 to 19 years) and we stand with them at a crossroad between losing out on the potential of a generation or nurturing them to transform society. As adolescents flourish, so do their communities, and all of us have a collective responsibility to ensure that adolescence is an age of opportunity.
Adolescence is a nutritionally vulnerable time when rapid physical growth increases nutrient demands. Dietary behaviours established in adolescence may contribute to nutrition-related problems that have consequences for long-term health.
In India, 40 per cent of girls and 18 per cent of boys are anaemic. Anaemia among adolescents adversely affects growth, resistance to infections, cognitive development and work productivity.
In response to the problem, the national Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) launched a nationwide Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme in January 2013. the programme builds on 13 years of evidence-generation through pilots and phased scale-ups by UNICEF on the use of weekly iron and folic acid supplementation to address anaemia in adolescent girls in different Indian states. Services delivered under the scheme include weekly iron and folic acid supplementation; bi-annual deworming; and nutrition counselling about how to improve diet, prevent anaemia and minimize the potential side-effects of IFA supplementation and deworming.
UNICEF India has been the partner of choice in supporting the universal roll-out of the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation Programme in 14 major states in India, which jointly are home to 88 per cent of India’s adolescent girls. The focus areas are convergent planning and development implementation protocols, development of training tools, capacity-building of field workers, developing external field monitoring and feedback loop review mechanisms and developing communication strategies and materials for mass awareness.
In 2018 adolescent nutrition received renewed political and programme focus, owing to the national-wide launch of the POSHAN Abhiyaan 2018-20.
In India adolescents and young people aged 10-19 years, account for nearly one quarter of the total population. They deserve much needed attention as they hold the key to breaking entrenched cycles of poverty, inequity and deprivation.