Prevalence of Malnutrition in India

According to the Joint Malnutrition Estimates released by the UNICEF, the WHO and the World Bank, India has shown a significant improvement in various indices of Nutrition.

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  • Stunting among children under five years in India dropped from a prevalence rate of 41.6% in 2012 to 31.7% in 2022. This was accompanied by India’s share of the global burden of stunting declining from 30% to 25% in the past decade.
  • The overall prevalence of wasting in 2022 was 18.7% in India, with a share of 49% in the global burden.
  • The prevalence of obesity marginally increased in a decade from 2.2% in 2012 to 2.8% in 2022.

The decline in stunting in India is commensurate with National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 (2019-2021) data which estimated its prevalence at 35.5% as against 38% in NFHS-4 (2016) and 48% in NFHS-3 (2006).

Despite improvement in the stunting and wasting, significant number of children are still reeling under the problem of Malnutrition.

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 habits, 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. According 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.
  • Exclusion 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.

Q) India continues to face the issue of hunger, despite several interventions by the Union and the State Governments. Why hunger is a persistent issue in India? (250 Words/15 Marks)

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