Implications of stunting extensive

Although the problem of stunting among India’s children has fallen over the decades, it remains worryingly high and is far higher than the global average, the latest Global Nutrition Report points out. Around 48 per cent of children in the under-5 age group were found to be stunted in 2006 compared to 39 per cent in 2014. The proportion of children who are stunted is not only declining but also the rate of decline is increasing. This is heartening. However, there is little to celebrate. Forty-four million of our children in the under-5 age group are stunted. This means that India continues to have the largest number of stunted children in the world. The report reveals that over 50 per cent of under-5 children in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are stunted. While stunting appears to be linked to poor socio-economic conditions, a high economic growth rate or per capita income does not guarantee normal physical growth of children. Punjab has the highest per capita income in the country but 30.5 per cent of its under-5 children are stunted. Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are roughly on par in terms of income. However, while the proportion of stunting in Tamil Nadu is 23 per cent, that in Gujarat is a shocking 41 per cent.

Providing a nutritious diet to children is important to prevent stunting. However, this isn’t enough as the roots of stunting can be traced to pre-conception. A malnutritioned and anaemic adolescent girl who becomes pregnant is more likely to give birth to an infant who is prone to stunting. Poor infant diets worsen the chances of preventing stunting. By the time the toddler is two years old, intervention may be too late as stunting is irreversible. Thus India will need to focus more on the health and nutrition of adolescent girls and expectant mothers to fight stunting among toddlers.

Efforts must be stepped to create public awareness about stunting. It is widely believed that stunting is merely about the height of the child – a stunted child will be shorter than others of her age. It is far more complex. Stunting adversely affects the development of the brain and results in diminished mental ability and learning capacity. Stunted children do poorly at school. It thus undermines self-esteem. As adults, it impacts their capacity to work and earn a living. They are more prone to diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc. Hence, the effects of stunting are far-reaching, with implications for the individual, her family and the nation’s economy. India needs to act now to prevent stunting.

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