A first of-its-kind study across all 640 districts of the country, highlights the impact of women’s health on stunting of children.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study, analysing data from the National Family Health Survey (NHFS)- IV, parameters related to women, including education and age at marriage, account for 50% of the difference between districts with high and low levels of stunting among children below the age of five.
Across the country, in 239 districts more than 40% of the children are stunted, while 202 districts record between 30% and 40 % of stunting. Only 29 districts have levels between 10% and 20%, most of them in south India, the study reports.
South does better
India accounts for approximately a third of the world’s stunted children at 63 million.
While levels have improved in the country from 48% in 2006 to 38.4% in 2016, there are wide variations among different districts ranging between 12.4% and 65.1%.
The populous northern States account for more than 80% of stunted children at 52.6 million. In comparison, all of the southern States together have 8.1 million stunted children and the north-eastern and island States account for nearly 2.4 million. Within the States, however, the levels vary with regions in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka recording high prevalence.
The research highlights the need for targeted policy intervention to combat stunting, with a focus on addressing critical determinants in individual districts.
“Women related parameters are great drivers and these have to be focussed upon. This will involve interventions through the course of a girl’s life such as her education, nutrition, marriage as well as when she is a mother,” says Purnima Menon, senior research fellow at IFPRI.
The four crucial parameters in women that together contribute to a 44% reduction in stunting among children are levels of body mass index accounting for 19% of the difference between districts; education accounting for 12% of the difference; age at marriage contributing a 7% reduction and ante-natal care adding 6%.
Among other important factors highlighted by the study, authored by Purnima Menon, Rashmi Avula, Derek Headey, Phuong Ngyuen, are adequate diet for children (9%), household assets (7%) and open defecation (7%).