India's economic growth not reduced malnutrition:Harvard study

India's economic growth not reduced malnutrition:Harvard study

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study analysed malnutrition by region in India. It said undernutrition was worst in the poor and populous states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It was less common in the northeastern states like Mizoram and Manipur, and also in Kerala.

"Growth in India's economy since the early 1990s has not ended undernutrition among children in that country and may require the Indian government to directly invest in appropriate health interventions such as food aid," the study by HSPH associate professor of society, human development and health S V Subramanian, said.

The study analysed economic and children's growth patterns from data based on the National Family Health Surveys on 77,326 Indian children in 1992-93, 1998-99 and 2005-06.

The study said India is not on track for achieving the target for Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality. Given that undernutrition between 6 and 59 months of age contributes to about 25-50 per cent of the mortality in that age group, reducing undernutrition is imperative to achieving the goals.

"The null association between state economic growth and undernutrition among children observed suggests that the role of economic growth and, more broadly, growth-mediated strategy in achieving the MDGs needs to be reappraised. The findings suggest that economic growth has no automatic connection to reducing childhood undernutrition," it said.

While the researchers found the prevalence of undernutrition decreased slightly during the study period, the decline did not correspond with the increase in economic growth.

The authors said an explanation to the trend is that India's rapid economic growth "may have benefited only the privileged sections of society."

Economic growth in India is largely driven by the service and technology sector, benefiting mostly the "privileged section" of the country. However, majority of the population is engaged in farming or manufacturing.

"It may, therefore, require India's government to use its growing tax revenues for direct aid like food or food stamps in order to substantially reduce child undernutrition," Subramanian said.

Other studies have shown that educating women and reducing birth rates do more to keep children fed than macroeconomic growth, said the study, which Subramanian co-authored with Malavika Subramanyam, postdoctoral fellow at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

The children's nutritional status was classified as underweight or stunting and wasting, based on the World Health Organisation Child Growth Standards.

Children with a weight that is less than the median for their age and gender were classified as underweight. Similarly, children whose height was below the median for their age and gender, and whose weight was below the median for their height and gender were considered stunted and wasted, respectively. 

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