Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a vegetarian, may have cultural and religious reasons for refusing to allow state schools to serve eggs in their midday meal, but his reasoning makes no nutritional sense and hobbles severely malnourished children—a fifth of all children in his state.

Chauhan was quoted as saying that "milk and bananas will be served, but never eggs" to Madhya Pradesh's 7.7 million children, beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme.

When it comes to protein and calorie counts, milk and bananas do not match up to eggs, particularly for Chauhan's impoverished state, where development indicators are among India's worst:

  • Almost 51% of children under five years of age are underweight, and 49% are stunted.
  • The state has India's highest infant mortality rate, ie. the number of deaths of children less than one year of age per 1000 live births.
  • The state also has India's third-highest maternal mortality ratio, ie. the number of registered maternal deaths due to birth- or pregnancy-related complications per 100,000 registered live births.

Here's how an egg a day might help.

An egg has a protein value of 17.11 gm, which is higher than the required daily protein requirement of 15 gm recommended by the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), a centrally sponsored child-welfare scheme.

Eggs also have a higher kilo calorie count: 210, which is nearly half the daily requirement for a school child, while one cup of milk has 146 kilo calories.

Chauhan turned down a pilot project to serve egg curry or boiled eggs in anganwadi (child-are centres) meals in the tribal areas of Alirajpur, Mandla and Hoshangabad districts. Tribals are worst off on the state's economic and nutritional ladder, as we shall explain.

Hot cooked meals are provided to anganwadi centres (AWCs) through self-help groups (SHGs) that provide the mid-day meal to schools.

Recipes and guidelines have been provided to SHGs, who prepare the meals for ICDS and mid-meal beneficiaries, so that they get the recommended levels of 540 calories and 15 gm protein.

Malnourished children need more than what midday meals provide

Most meals provided under the mid-meal scheme fulfil the basic nutritional requirements set by the ICDS programme, but they fall short of nutritional requirements for severely malnourished children.

The ICDS programme has suggested 20-25 gms protein and 800 Kcal for severely malnourished children. Mid-day meals don't seem to be meeting these targets.

Almost 20% children in Madhya Pradesh are severely malnourished, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition.

Source: Ministry of Women and Child Development

In addition, 51.9% children less than five years old are underweight and 48.9% stunted

Source: Ministry of Women and Child Development

Fifteen of 21 tribal districts have a higher percentage of underweight children than the state average of 51.9%. Nine districts have a higher percentage of children who are stunted compared to the state average. And 20 districts have a higher percentage of children who are wasted than the state average of 25.8%. ■

Image credit: PIB