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India toeing the line on curbing malnutrition

Posted:  Monday, December 07, 2015

Malnutrition has since long marred India's reputation on the healthcare front. However, two recent reports have given the country a few reasons to cheer. The reports found that the overall stunting, wasting and underweight rates of children in the country have declined in the last decade.

The two reports, namely the India Health Report and the Global Nutrition Report, were released recently. They were harbingers of both good and bad news for the country. The reports conveyed the good news that between 2006 and 2014, stunting had plummeted in the country from 48% of all children to 39%. India was also on course for meeting 2 of the 8 global goals on nutrition. What’s most encouraging is that the country’s nutrition performance has improved significantly over the last 10 years.

Acclaiming India’s effort on this front, Lawrence Haddad, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of the Global Nutrition Report said, "India's accelerated rate of reduction in under-5 malnutrition is not only good for Indian families and the Indian economy, but it is also good for the world."

Nonetheless, the reports have also hinted at a few dismal statistics. About 39% of all children in the country suffer stunted growth because of undernutrition. In fact, the rate of decline of stunted children in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh was much lower than the national average. What’s worse is that only 21.3% of children in the 6-35 month age group receive food supplements from the government.

The reports also underscored the grim fact that the rate of nutritional status improvement was not on par with the country’s gains in economic prosperity and agricultural productivity over the recent decades. Moreover, closure of the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau has proved detrimental to the organised fight against malnutrition. The bureau was the only accurate source of nutritional information from across two-thirds of the country, particularly rural areas.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, a professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, and co-author of the India Health Report aptly recognised the impact of malnutrition on the nation when he said, "Even with recent impressive improvements, India's stunting problem represents the largest loss of human potential in any country in human history.”

Ultimately, setting up specific and time-bound targets for malnutrition reduction is the way forward for India conclude the reports.

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