Malnutrition continues to snuff out under-5 kids

Malnutrition continues to snuff out under-5 kids

Children showing signs of malnutrition play outside their home in Marwan village in Bihar. REUTERS FILE

Malnutrition accounts for nearly 70% of deaths in children under five, according to a new report that exposes gaps in government policies meant to provide food and nutrition to kids.

The situation hasn't changed much in 27 years. The proportion of under-five deaths attributable to malnutrition was 70.4% in 1990 and improved only modestly to 68.2% in 2017.

There was some improvement though. All-cause under-five deaths have decreased by two-third — from 2,336 to 801 per 1,00,000 between 1990 and 2007. But malnutrition continues to be the leading risk factor for disease burden in India, triggering death and health loss in kids.

Among the malnutrition indicators, low birth weight is the biggest contributor to disease burden followed by child growth failure, which includes stunting, underweight and wasting.

"Low birth weight impairs brain development, robbing a child's brain of 8 IQ points in the first two years of life. Smallness at birth adversely impacts the cognitive ability of a child," said Vinod K Paul, member, NITI Aayog, and a former professor of paediatrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences here.

Published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health on Wednesday, the study is the fourth report in a series of 'India State Level Disease Burden Initiative' papers in which public health researchers examine all published information on malnutrition following a robust method to understand the trend in the last 27 years.

The disease burden attributable to malnutrition in children varies seven fold between the states. The worst records are held by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Assam followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Nagaland and Tripura.

How Karnataka fares

In south India, Tamil Nadu and Kerala fare better than Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In Karnataka, the prevalence of low birth weight is 19% (the national average is 21.4%), child stunting 34.9% (39.3%) and wasting 17.5% (15.7%). Also, the prevalence of child anaemia is 59.7%, same as the national average.

The study also flags the increasing prevalence of overweight issue in children (12.5% in Karnataka and 11.5% in India). "The problem, however, increases manifold in adolescence (10-19 years) because of which 9% of Indian teens are prediabetic," Paul said, quoting the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey which has not yet been released in the public domain.

If the trend continues, India will not only be in a position to meet its targets under the national nutrition mission but there will also be a 10% increase in the cases of low birth weight, stunting and anaemia in children by 2022.

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