EDITORIAL | Undernourished Nation

EDITORIAL | Undernourished Nation

Global Nutrition Report 2018, released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week, presents a dismal picture of the state of children’s health in India. It reveals that a third of the world’s stunted children under five are in India. That means that about 46.6 million children have low height for their age. The country also has 25.5 million wasted children who have low weight for their age. India is followed by Nigeria and Pakistan in the list. It is not just with the absolute numbers that India tops the list. Its share of stunted and wasted children is almost twice the share of its population. The National Health Survey 2015-16 had also shown that one out of three children under five in the country is stunted. Only one out of 10 children receive adequate food. The basic cause of stunting and wasting is malnutrition, which is also one of the main reasons for child mortality.

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Many social and economic factors account for the poor state of child nutrition. Acute poverty, unemployment, low educational and literacy levels of parents, especially mothers, the health of mothers and their nutritional intake during pregnancy, hygiene and the size of the household are determinants of children’s nutritional status. There are cultural factors also. People at the lowest strata of society have not gained as much from economic development as the better off sections. There are schemes like the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the Anganwadi Services which are meant to meet the nutritional needs of children up to the age of six and pregnant and lactating mothers. The large number of stunted and wasted children shows that these schemes have fallen short. Budgetary allocations for social spending, which caters to the needs of health, nutrition, etc., are very inadequate. Even when the schemes and the allocations are there, implementation is bad. 

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There are major variations in stunting and wasting levels in different parts of the country. The report has provided district-level data and they show that the levels are high in the northern and central states and comparatively low in the south. Better social environment, greater political commitment and more efficient administration and implementation of programmes may have made the difference in the south. The social backwardness and governance deficit in the northern states may have impacted the outcomes of all welfare schemes there. Undernutrition affects the physical and mental development of the child for all her life. It is a stunted, wasted and hungry child that represents the Indian child now. It is the nation’s responsibility to feed and nourish its children. It has failed in this.

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