Findings from a recently published three-month feeding study with 1,500 children in Karnataka suggest that millet-based mid-day meals (MDMs) can increase relative growth by 50%. Children rated the meals, which were designed by scientists and chefs and included little millet as a rice substitute, over 4.5 on 5 for taste.
The findings of the study were released jointly by Prof Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, and Dr Ashok Dalwai, Chair, Empowered Body, Doubling Farmers’ Income, Government of India, in New Delhi.
Dr Ashok Dalwai emphasized, “Making it profitable for farmers to grow nutritious foods like millet has to be a key part of the Doubling Farmers’ Income vision and millets are important in the rainfed areas for farmers to cope with climate change and water scarcity.”
This Smart Food study, ‘Acceptance and impact of millet based mid-day meal on nutritional status of adolescent school going children in a peri-urban region of Karnataka state in India,’ published in the journal Nutrients, was undertaken by The Akshaya Patra Foundation and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Early adolescent school children in four villages – Thathaguni, Kagallipura, Allahali and Chensandra which are located around Bengaluru— participated in the study. Growth was assessed using anthropometry measurements-height and weight, along with age, while sensory evaluations were made to determine acceptability.
The researchers found that children feed millets had a 1.5% increase in height on average in three months while children in the control group registered a 1% increase in height during the same period. In effect, the study group children grew 50% taller than the height increase of control group children. Similarly, the study group children registered a 5% increase in weight on average, while 3% average weight increase was registered in the control group during the study period. Thus, the weight increase of the study group children was over 50% higher than that of the control group.
This is highly relevant now as millets have gained attention for their nutritional value and resilience in the face of water scarcity and climate change, making them a viable option for struggling farmers if markets can be further developed. The Government of India and various states like Karnataka and Odisha have led the cause to make millets a popular food choice. The Government of India designated 2018 as ‘National Year of Millets’ and initiated a millet mission. NITI Aayog recently announced a pilot to include millets in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and MDM schemes.
Photo caption- L-R- Dr S Anitha, Joanna Kane-Potaka, Prof Ramesh Chand, Dr Ashok Dalwai and Dr Raj Bhandari at the release of the study’s findings in New Delhi