One-third of families in India cut back on food, says global poll

One-third of the Indian families have been forced to cut back on food with their children not having enough to eat due to soaring food prices. Almost one in five parents (17 per cent) said their children had skipped school as they could work to help pay for food.

A recent survey by the Save the Children ``A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition'' is based on a global poll, which covered India as well as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Peru – the five countries where more than half of the world's malnourished children live. It also revealed that half of those surveyed in India said that food prices had become their most pressing concern in the last year. The survey was done between December 19, 2011 and January 9, 2012.

The survey showed that the proportion of stunted children in India was 48 per cent, Nigeria and Bangladesh (43 per cent respectively), Pakistan (42 per cent) and Peru 24 per cent. These countries are home to 170 million stunted children of the world.

In India and Nigeria, the highest populated countries in South Asia and Africa respectively, and both fast growing economies, parents appear to be struggling to feed their children, showing that a large proportion of the population was yet to benefit from the economic progress. A large majority of people in India (66 per cent) said that an increase in food prices had become their most pressing concern in 2011.

In India, 24 per cent of families reported that their children go without food for an entire day while the proportion of such families is 27 per cent in Nigeria. In both these countries parents who are less educated, have more than one child and have lower income are more likely to report this, the survey said.

The growing trend of malnutrition is especially alarming in Asia, where more than a third of the children are chronically malnourished or stunted, accounting for almost 100 million (60 per cent) of the global total. In India, despite experiencing huge economic growth in the past few years, almost half of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, being home to more than a third of the world's stunted children, it said.

The survey report shows that rising food prices and malnutrition are putting additional pressure on countries with already high burden of child morality. Unless, tackled urgently now, half a billion children's lives will be irreversibly affected by malnutrition over the next 15 years. Save the Children has pointed out that although malnutrition is the underlying cause of a third of child deaths in the world, it has not received the same high profile campaigning and investment as other causes of child mortality like HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Yet the costs – both in human and economic terms – are huge. A child who is chronically malnourished can have an IQ of up to 15 points less than a child properly nourished while Save the Children estimates the cost to the global economy of child malnutrition in 2010 alone was nearly $ 121 billion.