Better nutrition for better health
Undernutrition affects nearly half of all children in India under the age of 5. Whilst the root causes are complex, it can be broadly traced to a combination of issues with supply, that is, low availability of nutritious foods, and demand, that is, a lack of preference for nutritious foods.
Conventional approaches to increasing demand for nutritious foods focus on raising awareness of what foods are healthy. Unfortunately, knowledge alone is often not enough to change behaviour. For example, a survey in India conducted by Ashoka showed that, across income levels, 97% of rural women know that millets are more nutritious than rice but are 26% less likely to consume them.
In 2011, Ashoka India launched the Health and Nutrition Initiative in partnership with the Swiss Re Foundation to design and implement a framework for effecting systemic changes that improve nutrition in rural India. Ashoka’s programme focuses on schools and children in the age group 9-14 to maximise the scale of impact.
The main component of the programme, Nourishing Schools, includes a fun, interactive curriculum to teach children about the nutritional value of plants and other foods and how to cook them as well as age-appropriate education and awareness materials that teach kids about hygiene and the role of various foods in healthy eating. To facilitate wider awareness and replication, the project also created, tested and refined a toolkit that allows organisations to adapt the model to their own schools, for instance, by improving the nutritional quality of midday meals with produce from school gardens. Nourishing Schools participants and stakeholders were surveyed at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the project.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
During its 2014-17 partnership with the Swiss Re Foundation, Ashoka implemented the programme in 120 schools in multiple Indian states, conducted the aforementioned surveys and developed metrics for assessing nutrition in partnership with the St. John’s Research Institute in Karnataka. State governments including Rajasthan’s have since asked Ashoka to implement Nourishing Schools in their respective school systems.