Aarti Dhar

Over 3.5 million mothers, children under five die avoidable deaths

Anaemia affects 79% poorest Indian children

NEW DELHI: The Lancet has warned that children would suffer irreversible damage in adult life unless proper nutritional interventions are delivered before the age of two.

Launching a five-part series of research papers on maternal and child undernutrition, the international medical journal said the prevalence of child undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in India was among the highest in the world.

But the challenge is not India’s alone. Worldwide, more than 3.5 million mothers and children under five die avoidable deaths each year due to the underlying cause of undernutrition. And millions are permanently disabled by the physical and mental effects of poor dietary intake in the earliest months of life, according to Robert Black, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has authored the series.

According to data analysed in the series, over 51 per cent of children in India under five are stunted. This is a third (34 %) of the global total of stunted children. Anaemia affects 79 per cent of children in the lowest economic strata and 64 per cent in the better-off families. The research mirrors trends found in the National Family Health Survey-3. That benchmark survey indicated some improvements in the nutritional status of young children in several States, though overall there were widespread nutritional deficiencies and little change in the percentage of underweight children. The Lancet papers quantify the prevalence of maternal and child undernutrition and consider the short-term consequences in terms of deaths and disease burden, as measured by Disability-Adjusted Life Years and long-term educational and economic effects and association with adult chronic diseases.