Malnutrition a public health challenge

One in four urban children in the country under the age of five suffers from chronic malnutrition

AuthorPublished: 14th Feb 2018  12:19 am

It is ironic that a country, which has surplus foodgrain stock, is home to an alarmingly large number of malnourished children. Despite rapid urbanisation and improved access to quality food, many children in India do not get the required nourishment. One in four urban children in the country under the age of five suffers from chronic malnutrition. The disturbing set of findings of a survey, conducted in 10 of the country’s most populous cities, must serve as a wake-up call to the policymakers and public health experts. Delhi has the highest percentage of severely stunted children (11.7%), according to the Urban Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA) study carried out by the NGO Naandi Foundation. The education level of mothers, feeding patterns and government service delivery were among the factors found to determine the nutritional status of the child. The prevalence of stunting ranged from 14.8% in Chennai to an alarming 30.6% in Delhi. There is a need to undertake a massive awareness programme at the national level, on the lines of immunisation drive, to sensitise families about the nutritional needs of the children. Across the most populous cities, the prevalence of stunting is 22.3% and of being underweight (low weight for age) is 21.4% among children under five years. Overall, 13.8% children below five years are wasted (low weight for height) and 15.7% newborns have low birth weight. Carried out between April and July 2014, the survey covered Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Surat, Pune and Jaipur. These cities account for 5.3% of India’s population and 4.1% of the child population under the age of six. Overall, over 22.3% children under the age of five were stunted, 21.4% were underweight and 13.9% were wasted (low weight to height).

There is a clear correlation between education of the mother and nutritional standard of children; 35.3% of the children of mothers with five years of schooling or less were stunted while in the case of mothers who were more educated, the corresponding proportion was 16.7%. This means that any drive to promote nutrition projects must involve mothers as they are the main providers of nourishment to children. The study also shows that India is facing a double burden — under and over-nutrition. Though the number of children in urban areas who are stunted is less compared to rural areas, at 22% it is still a high figure. It highlights that a more concentrated approach involving family, community, policymakers and private sector is required to address the twin problems of malnutrition and obesity. The survey had a sample size of 11,955 households, including 12,286 mothers who were interviewed and 14,616 children aged between 0-59 months who were measured.