The situation in India
As per the Global Nutrition Report, 2018, India holds almost a third of the world’s burden for stunting. With 46.6 million children who are stunted, India tops the list of countries followed by Nigeria (13.9 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million), the Global Nutrition Report 2018 said. Stunting, or low height for age, is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient-intake and frequent infections. India also accounted for 25.5 million children who are wasted, followed by Nigeria (3.4 million) and Indonesia (3.3 million). Wasting, or low weight for height, is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. It is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease.
India also figures among the set of countries that has more than a million overweight children. The other nations are China, Indonesia, India, Egypt, US, Brazil and Pakistan.
Source: Economic Times
Variations at the national level
There is a wide variation in stunting levels in different parts of the country. District-level data show high and very high levels of stunting mainly in central and northern India (more than 30% and 40%, respectively), but less than 20% in almost the entire south. This shows the important role played by political commitment, administrative efficiency, literacy and women’s empowerment in ensuring children’s health.
Data under the Global Hunger Index
According to the [popup_anything id=”4025″] 2018, at least one in five Indian children under the age of five are ‘wasted,’ which means they have extremely low weight for their height, reflecting acute under-nutrition. Overall, India has been ranked at 103 out of 119 countries in the Index, with hunger levels in the country categorised as “serious”.
- Improved nutritional policies – Governments should acknowledge the linkages between food & freedom and commit themselves to improved nutritional policies. The national framework to improve nutrition already exists. The Anganwadi Services scheme (which incorporates the Integrated Child Development Services, caters to children up to age six, and to pregnant and lactating women) must be subjected to a rigorous review and targeted interventions for supplementary nutrition made.
- Regulation of packaged food – A second issue is that of the quality of nutrition in packaged foods available to children. Going by the report, only 21% of these foods in India were rated as being healthy, based on overall energy, salt, sugar and saturated fat on the negative side, and vegetable, fruit, protein, fibre and calcium as positive factors.
- Enhanced spending – India should invest more of its economic prosperity in its welfare system, without binding itself in restrictive budgetary formulations. The Economic Survey 2017-18 put social services spending at 6.6% of GDP, an insignificant rise after a marginal decline from the 6% band during the previous year to 5.8%.
- Other factors – Among the factors affecting the quantity and quality of nutrition are maternal education, age at marriage, antenatal care, children’s diet and household size. More awareness and infrastructure must be created in respect to these parameters.
- Role of social institutions – Social institutions can work to improve nutrition and children’s welfare in free societies.
Brief relevant data on the global scale
Globally 150.8 million children under five years are stunted and 50.5 million are wasted, as per the global nutrition report, 2018. As per another United Nations Report, an estimated 6.3 million children under 15 years of age died in 2017, or 1 every 5 seconds, mostly of preventable causes. Globally, in 2017, half of all deaths under five years of age took place in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 30% in Southern Asia.
Food and freedom go together, and the availability of one strongly influences access to the other and the absence of hunger enables people to develop their capabilities. With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines, we can change that reality for every child.