Pregnant Indians fare poorly on health front

Pregnant Indians fare poorly on health front

The health profile of pregnant mothers in India is worse than those in poor countries of the sub-Saharan Africa, as a result of which Indian children are smaller in size than African kids.

These stunted children tend to perform poorly in school and earn less money as adults, suggests a research scholar from Princeton University, who analysed the “Asian enigma”.
Though Indian children on an average are richer than African kids, they are significantly shorter and smaller than children in sub-Saharan Africa. This contradiction is known as “Asian enigma” among the scholars for a long time.

“It happened because 42.2 per cent of women in India are underweight when they begin pregnancy, compared with 16.5 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa,” said economist Diane Coffey, who for the first time analysed the body-mass-index (BMI) of expectant mothers from the two continents. The BMI for the underweight women is less than 18.5.

The study finds that women in both regions gain about seven kilograms, which is approximately 60 per cent of what are recommended in the medical guidelines. In the US, underweight of expectant mothers is a not a population level health problem as only three per cent are underweight at the beginning of the pregnancy.

“Even economically advantaged women in India have high rates of underweight, and their infants have high rates of low birth weight,” Coffey told Deccan Herald.
The statistics indicate that maternal nutrition in India is deficient and likely to be an important cause of poor nutritional outcomes for children.

Even in advantaged households, young women have low social rank. Because new daughters-in-law are supposed to be subservient and self-sacrificing, they may be denied, or deny themselves adequate food even if the household can afford it.

Indian babies would be healthier if their mothers were seen as equal to their fathers and grandparents, said the economist who works at Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, Delhi and a visiting scholar at the Delhi School of Economics.
Moreover, whether a woman is underweight is related not only to the food she eats, but also to the energy she spends fighting diseases.

Diseases like parasites and diarrhoea are common in India because it has poor sanitation and high rates of open defecation. Even wealthy women who themselves use toilets and latrines can get sick if their neighbours are defecating in the open.

“Children with stunted physical growth in life experience stunted cognitive development. High rates of stunting in India also have profoundly negative impacts on the economy,” she said. The study has appeared in the March 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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