Malnourished kids in Delhi need help, CM gets report

24.9 pc children in Capital underweight; national average is 22.9 pc

A walk through Indira Kalyan Vihar, Okhla Phase-I makes the story of malnourishment in India’s Capital come alive in front of one’s eyes. 

Underweight and stunted children are abundant in this colony largely inhabited by migrant labourers and unskilled workers, in a city which prides itself of earning and spending the most in the country.

Mahima, 18 months, weighs five kgs and is 70 cm tall though her weight should be eight kg and height 80 cm to come above the line of malnourishment. Since six months ago when her family came to Delhi from Bihar, she has only been fed chapati and rice.

“She has taken to the taste of plain chapati and rice. Even if I take her to the Aanganwadi where a variety is served based on the day of the week, she refuses to eat that food. Feeding her fruit and vegetables is out of question,” said Mahima’s mother.

Mahima’s father works as a helper at a nearby factory. Asha, 30, a weak and anaemic woman, has three children, all falling in the category of malnourished. They are unable to even meet the minimum standards for weight and height prescribed by the World Health Organisation.         

Her eldest daughter Anjali is seven-years-old with a weight of 16 kg and a height of 100 cm. A child of her age should weigh at least 20 kg and be 115 cm tall. Similarly, Sintu, who is a four year old, weighs 11 kg with height of only 85 cm while the minimum standards prescribe it to be at least 14 kg and 100 cm. 

The youngest among the three, Mintu is 18 months old with weight and height similar to Mahima. 

Her husband works as a labourer who can hardly meet the needs of the family. The children have never been fed milk other than mother’s milk.

In a series of shocking reports have been released by various stakeholders on malnourishment, Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation, submitted its report to the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Friday.

The report titled ‘A Life Free from Hunger’ is part of a global campaign on newborn child survival. Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children India, requested the CM to constitute a Nutrition Mission. He said India’s progress on the infant and child mortality rates in relation to the Millenium Development Goal 4 target was inadequate.

“There is a strong link between nutrition and child mortality,” he said.

Dikshit said parents -- especially mothers – needed to be educated on what is a good diet. 

“We cannot talk in terms of calories, proteins and carbohydrates. We have to create awareness among parents regarding healthy food – daliya, vegetables, fruit, etc,”  she added. According to the report, average height of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl in India is 84.7 cm as against the WHO standard of 90.7 cm.  The corresponding figures for boys are 86.1 cm and 91.9 cm. It says that productivity loss due to foregone waged employment was estimated to be US$2.3 billion a year in India. According to data from round three of National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Delhi, at 43.2 per cent fares marginally better than the all-India figure of stunted children which is 44.9 per cent.

But in terms of underweight children the situation is worse with Delhi registering 24.9 per cent as compared to 22.9 per cent nationwide.

“In India, we talk of only obesity-related problems because obese constitute the cream of the society.  “But the real challenge is malnourishment which needs tougher policy measures,” said a senior doctor from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who has been treating children with stunted growth for a long time.

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