Teen pregnancy leads to malnutrition in kids

Teen pregnancy leads to malnutrition in kids

unhealthy knots

In India, the prevalence of stunted and underweight children was 11% more in adolescent mothers, compared to children born to adults. Reuters File

With nearly a quarter of the girls getting married before 18 and almost 8% of women turning mothers between 15 and 19 years, teenage pregnancy contributes significantly towards malnutrition among children in Karnataka.

In a recent study, researchers showed that in India, the prevalence of stunted and underweight children was 11% more in adolescent mothers, compared to children born to adults. India is home to more stunted children than any other country and is one of the nations with the biggest burden of teen pregnancy.

Although marriage before 18 years is illegal, the 2016 National Family and Health Survey-4 found 27% of girls enter into wedlock before turning 18.

In south India, the numbers are higher in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka as against Tamil Nadu and Kerala. While the figures on teen mothers did improve for Karnataka — the percentage of women marrying before 18 came down from 41.2 in 2005-06 to 23.2 in 2015-16 and the number of teen mothers was halved — they are on the higher side for AP and Telangana.

“We are puzzled at why early marriage is high in AP, Telangana and Karnataka. Ideally, such numbers should be close to zero. More than 20% is very high,” Purnima Menon, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute and one of the co-authors of the study, told DH.

What comes as a big surprise for Karnataka is a sharp increase in the number of children with wasting, which means low weight for height — a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. It is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and disease.

In 2005-06, wasting was reported in 17.6% of children in Karnataka, but the number went up to 26.1% a decade later in Karnataka, which scored even higher than the national average of 21%. The number of children below five years who are severely wasted almost doubled from 5.9% in 2005-06 to 10.5% in 2015-16. “We are exploring the wasting aspect too. We have no reasons to explain a 10% increase,” she said.

Like in most parts of the country, stunting has been reduced from 43.7% in 2005-06 to 36.2% a decade later, whereas the percentage of underweight children remains more or less the same.

Published in the Lancet Child Adolescent Health in May 2019, the IFPRI study showed teen pregnancy was associated with poorer maternal nutritional status, lower educational attainment, lower likelihood of accessing antenatal health services, poorer complementary feeding practices, and poorer living conditions, all of which were also associated with stunting.

Compared to adult mothers, teenage mothers are shorter, more likely to be underweight and anaemic, less likely to access health services and had poorer complementary feeding practices, says the study. They also had lower education, less bargaining power and lived in poorer households with poorer sanitation.

“The strongest links between adolescent pregnancy and child stunting were through the mother’s education, her socioeconomic status, and her weight,” noted Samuel Scott, an IFPRI fellow and co-author of the study.