New official data on nutrition in India’s nine poorest States has shown that while most states have successfully reduced the number of underweight children over the last decade, their record in reducing child stunting has been more mixed. While Bihar and Uttarkhand improved on all indicators, Uttar Pradesh got worse on all.
The Office of the Registrar General of India released the findings of the Clinical, Anthropometric and Bio-chemical (CAB) Survey this week. The survey was conducted in 2014 as a sub-component of the Annual Health Survey, which collects health information from a representative sample of every district in India’s eight Empowered Action Group (EAG) States — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand – and Assam. A one-time survey, the CAB collected district-level data on key anthropometric indicators including child stunting, child wasting and children underweight.
The last time India collected anthropometric data was in 2005-2006, as part of the National Family Health Survey III. While the NFHS III and the CAB were conducted on different samples, both sets of findings are meant to be representative at the State level, officials from both agencies confirmed to The Hindu . A comparison between the NFHS and the CAB shows that eight of the nine States were successful in substantially reducing the proportion of underweight children; Uttar Pradesh was the only State, where the proportion actually rose slightly over the last decade.
The new data comes in the backdrop of the NDA government’s flip-flop over the release of the Rapid Survey of Children (RSOC), a nation-wide sample survey commissioned by the previous government and conducted by Unicef. The RSOC had shown substantial improvements in all child health indicators, but its findings were initially not released by the new government, and later made public after media including The Hindu reported on leaked findings.
The RSOC’s findings on other child anthropometric indicators like child wasting (weight for height more than two standard deviations below the expected) and child stunting (height for age more than two standard deviations below the expected) are far more optimistic than the CAB’s. While the RSOC found improvements in all CAG States on child stunting, the CAB finds that only five States — Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Uttarakhand — improved. On child wasting, only four — Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand — improved. The CAB confirms the RSOC’s finding that while girls were more likely than boys to be underweight in 2005-2006, boys were slightly more likely to be underweight as of 2014.