'Child stunting drops sharply in India'

The proportion of “wasted” children under the age of five – those with a low weight-for-height – has declined from 20 per cent to 15 per cent. File photo shows a child at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre of Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh on February 1, 2012.   | Photo Credit: ADNAN ABIDI

India has dramatically reduced not only the number of underweight children but also the numbers of stunted and wasted children, new details of yet-unreleased official nutrition data show.

The proportion of children under the age of five who are stunted has fallen from 48 per cent to 39 per cent between 2005-6 and 2013-14, the new numbers show, meaning that India now has 14.5 million fewer stunted children. Stunting is the extent to which children are shorter than the World Health Organisation’s reference population, and Indian children are among the shortest in the world.

Last month, >The Hindu > had reported exclusively on the first official new malnutrition numbers in nearly a decade which showed a historic fall in the proportion of underweight children in India. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, with UNICEF India, conducted a Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) over 2013-14, the full findings of which are expected soon. On Thursday evening, more details of the RSOC numbers were made public in the International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) >Global Nutrition Report.

In a new World Bank report, also released on Thursday, Ashi Kathuria, Senior Nutrition Specialist at the Bank and lead author of the report, called for stunting to be recognised by India as its primary indicator of malnutrition. “Stunting is associated not only with failure in physical growth but also with impaired brain and cognitive development,” she told The Hindu, adding that it was a more stable indicator of chronic poor nutrition than weight. There is only a narrow window of opportunity – from conception to two years of age – to improve stunting, she said; height at age two is the best predictor of adult height and of future human capital.

The Indian government’s RCOS also shows that the proportion of “wasted” children under the age of five – those with a low weight-for-height – has declined from 20 per cent to 15 per cent over the same time period.

The biggest nutritional success from the new numbers is India’s progress on the number of infants below the age of six months who are exclusively breastfed, an important nutritional practice. From 46 per cent, this number has now shot up dramatically to 72 per cent, more than surpassing the World Health Assembly’s targets for India for 2025.

However India’s slowest movement seems to be on anaemia among women of reproductive age, Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, told The Hindu. The RCOS does not measure anaemia among women, but other official data from such states indicates that this number has actually grown, she said.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 7:28:30 PM |

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