Hunger and Malnutrition

Context: Recently the Prime minister, in his Independence Day speech, has claimed that the government had lifted 135 million people out of poverty from 2015-16 to 2019-21. Though it was a commendable achievement, the reduction in the poverty did not result in reduction in Hunger and Malnutrition in India. In this context, let us analyse the reasons for persistence of Hunger in India. 


India had been ranked 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022. The level of hunger in India had been labelled as ‘serious’ by the latest edition of the annual country-wise rankings report.

Global Hunger Index: Each country’s GHI score is calculated based on four indicators. 

Undernourishment – calculated by the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake. 

Child stunting – calculated by the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition. 

Child mortality – Calculated by the share of children who die before their fifth birthday, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.

Child wasting – Calculated by the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition. The GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale reflecting the severity of hunger, where zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. 

Reasons for prevalence of widespread Hunger in India:

  • Inappropriate child feeding practices:

The WHO and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth and infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. NFHS-5 says that only 42% of infants are breastfed within one hour of birth and only 64% of infants are exclusively breastfed for first 6 months. 

  • Low Female literacy:

Nutrition levels are majorly affected by the education level of women. It increases awareness about nutrient-rich diet, personal hygiene, good feeding practices etc. Educating women also help in containing the family size in poor, malnourished families. But female literacy in India is only 65% and the rate is much lower for the states like Bihar and Rajasthan that recorded high levels of malnutrition in children. 

  • Poor Sanitation: 

Repeated infection with diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation contributes to chronic malnutrition by inhibiting intestinal absorption of nutrients and is strongly correlated with stunting. The proportion of people with access to improved sanitation facilities in India is only 49% as per NHFS-4. 

  • Micro nutrient deficiency: 

According to studies, more than 80 per cent of the Indian population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies, contributing to compromised immunity. This is mainly due to lack of dietary diversification, changed dietary habbits, food processing resulting in plant micronutrient loss, crop homogenisation. 

  • Food inflation: 

With rising food inflation families become less able to buy and eat nutritious food. Accoridng to a report of ADB, 1 per cent increase in food inflation leads to an increase of 0.3 per cent in both infant and child mortalities, and 0.5 per cent in undernourishment. 

  • Limitations of existing schemes:

The ICDS program, while successful in many ways, has not made a significant dent in child malnutrition. This is mostly due to the priority that the program has placed on food supplementation, targeting mostly children after the age of three when malnutrition has already set in.

Stringent conditions to avail the benefits of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana  has led to the exclusion of teenage mothers and poor women who birth more than one child, thereby abetting the intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.

Exclusuion errors, non-inclusion of  nutritious items such as pulses and edible oil in the PDS basket failed to improve the nutritional status of poor households. 

Impact on national growth

It is estimated that malnutrition can decrease the economic growth of a nation by approximately 8% due to loss in productivity caused by reduced schooling and cognitive impairments. Research suggests that $1 spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate $34.1 to $38.6 in public economic returns, three times more than the global average. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India requires a strong and healthy workforce to sustain its growth levels.

Measures taken by the Government: 

  • POSHAN Abhiyaan is an overarching umbrella scheme to improve the nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers by holistically addressing the multiple determinants of malnutrition. It involves convergence of multiple programs and schemes: ICDS, PMMVY, NHM (with its sub components such as JSY, MCP card, Anaemia Mukt Bharat, RBSK, IDCF, HBNC, HBYC, Take Home Rations), Swachh Bharat Mission, National Drinking water Mission, NRLM etc.
  • Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) for providing one hot cooked meal in Government and Government – aided Schools.
  • Food fortification: 
    • Fortification of wheat is being implemented in 12 states on pilot basis.
    • Fortification of edible oil, too, was made compulsory across the country by FSSAI in 2018.
    • Fortification of milk was started in 2017 under which the National Dairy Development Board of India (NDDB) is pushing companies to add vitamin D.
    • States have been scaling up the use of double-fortified salt in an effort to combat iron and iodine deficiencies.
  • Price stabilisation fund to regulate the price volatility of important agri-horticultural commodities like onion, potatoes and pulses.


How far do you agree with the view that the focus on lack of availability of food as the main cause of hunger takes the attention away from ineffective human development policies in India? (15) (2018)


Q) Which of the following indicators are included in the Global Hunger Index Score of a country?

  1. Child Stunting
  2. Child Mortality
  3. Child wasting
  4. Undernourishment

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a). 1, 2 and 3 only

b). 2, 3 and 4 only

c.) 1, 3 and 4 only

d). 1, 2, 3 and 4

Answer: d

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 20 MB. You can upload: image, document, archive, other. Drop files here

Online Counselling
Table of Contents
Today's Current Affairs
This is default text for notification bar