Malnutrition a matter of national shame: PM

Malnutrition a matter of national shame: PM

Malnutrition a matter of national shame: PM

Six decades after independence, almost half of India’s under-five children in six large states are either underweight or stunted, says a new survey exposing the holes in the Central government's claim to provide nutritious food to millions of children.

An Indian woman feeds her child at a shanty area in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. A new study says 42 percent of children in India under the age of five are underweight and nearly 60 percent are stunted. The Hunger and Malnutrition Survey was released Tuesday and surveyed over 100,000 children in 112 districts across nine states in the country. These included 100 districts with the worst child development indicators. APIn 100 districts surveyed as many as 42 per cent of children under-five are underweight and 59 per cent are stunted. Of the children suffering from stunting, about half were severely stunted, said the survey, released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday.

“The problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high,” he said.

Entitled as ‘HUNGaMA’ (Hunger and Malnutrition), the survey was conducted by Citizen's Alliance Against Malnutrition, which has many young Parliamentarians cutting across party line as its members. The report is based on interviews with 74,020 mothers, 109,093 children, and hundreds of Anganwadi workers and village communities.

Child malnutrition, according to the survey, starts very early in life. Within 24 months 42 per cent of children becomes under weight and 59 per cent stunted.

Low birth-weight is an important risk factor as the prevalence of underweight in children born with a weight below 2.5 kg is 50 per cent whereas the prevalence comes down to 34 per cent for those whose birth-weight was more than 2.5 kg.

Malnutrition is significantly higher among children from low income families and kids from Muslim, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. In fact, every third mal-nourished children in the world is an Indian.

A comparative analysis of the data obtained from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, with some of the best performing districts from Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, showed that mother's education level holds the key.

The survey conducted in  100  districts of six states, revealed that as many as 66 per cent mothers didn’t attend schools and 92 per cent of them haven’t heard the word malnutrition.

The rates of child underweight and stunting are significantly higher among mothers with low level of education. The prevalence of underweight is 45 per cent among mothers who can’t read but it declines to 27 per cent among mothers with standard-10 or above in the level of education. The corresponding figures for child stunting are 63 and 43 per cent, respectively.

“What concerns me is that 42 per cent of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence,” Singh said, adding that the country could not have a healthy future with a large number of malnourished children.

Singh said that the government could not solely depend on the integrated child development scheme and that, it would have to “focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail.”

Though the Anganwadi centres are widespread, they are not very efficient as only 19 per cent mothers reported that the Anganwadi centres provide nutrition counseling to parents. Hand washing with soap is also not a common practice as 11 per cent mothers do it before meal and 19 per cent after visiting a toilet.

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