74.1% of Indians unable to afford a healthy diet: FAO Report

Report provides startling figures of country’s position on malnutrition and stunted growth

December 12, 2023 09:50 pm | Updated December 16, 2023 12:02 pm IST - New Delhi

The report said during the COVID-19 pandemic and the “5Fs” crisis – Food, Feed, Fuel, Fertilisers, and Finance – the region witnessed harrowing statistics. Image for representation.

The report said during the COVID-19 pandemic and the “5Fs” crisis – Food, Feed, Fuel, Fertilisers, and Finance – the region witnessed harrowing statistics. Image for representation. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations launched the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023: Statistics and Trends, a report on December 12 which said 74.1% of Indians were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. In 2020, the percentage was 76.2. In Pakistan, the figure is 82.2% and in Bangladesh, 66.1% of the population faced difficulties in finding healthy food. Rising food costs, if not matched by rising income, will lead to more people unable to afford a healthy diet, the report warned.

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“If food costs rise at the same time incomes fall, a compounding effect occurs that can result in even more people unable to afford healthy diets,” the report said. The FAO report is a glimpse on the progress in meeting Sustainable Development Goals and World Health Assembly (WHA) global nutrition targets.

The report said during the COVID-19 pandemic and the “5Fs” crisis – Food, Feed, Fuel, Fertilisers, and Finance – the region witnessed harrowing statistics.

“Even to date, the region is still suffering from some protracted effects. The latest statistics indicate that the region, with 370.7 million undernourished people, continues to represent half of the global total. Similarly, the Asia and the Pacific region accounts for half of the world’s severe food insecurity, with more women than men being food insecure. Prevalence rates on stunting, wasting, and overweight among children under 5 years of age, as well as anaemia among women of reproductive age, are still off the marks in terms of World Health Assembly global nutrition targets,” the report said.

The report said 16.6% of the country’s population is undernourished. “The impacts of undernourishment extend beyond health and nutritional well-being to include economic and social costs,” it said. The region, according to the report, had a lower prevalence for both moderate or severe and severe food insecurity when compared with the world prevalence since 2015.

“Southern Asia showed higher prevalence of severe food insecurity compared with the other subregions, and it is in Eastern Asia where the lowest prevalence of severe food insecurity was observed. Compared with the world, Southern Asia had higher percentages for both moderate or severe and severe food insecurity since 2015,” the report said.

31.7% of children of the country under five years of age suffered with stunted growth. “Stunted growth and development are the result of poor maternal health and nutrition, inadequate infant and young child feeding practices, and repeated infections interacting with a variety of other factors over a sustained period,” the report said.

For wasting (low weight for height), India recorded the highest rate in the region with 18.7% children under five years of age facing this major health problem. “Reducing and maintaining childhood wasting to less than 5% is the WHA global nutrition target,” the report noted. 2.8% of the children below five years were overweight, another health risk.

53% of the country’s women aged between 15 to 49 had anaemia, which was the largest prevalence rate in the region in 2019. “It (anaemia) impairs health and well-being in women and increases the risk for adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes,” the report warned.

1.6% of the country’s adults are obese as of 2000, according to the FAO. The figure has increased to 3.9% by 2016. On exclusive breastfeeding among infants 0–5 months of age, India has improved the prevalence with a percentage of 63.7%, which is higher than the world prevalence – 47.7%. India has the highest prevalence of low birthweight in the region (27.4%), followed by Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Global Hunger Index too had brought out similar figures earlier. The Centre had rubbished those data by claiming that the methodology was wrong. FAO works in close association with the governments of its member countries.

The article has been updated with obesity figures from FAO as of 2000 and 2016.

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