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Researchers single out major predictors of child undernutrition in India

Posted:  Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alarmingly high rates of stunting (40%) and underweight (30%) continue to haunt Indian children despite organised efforts to curtail them. A new study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has now recognised the top risk factors for child undernutrition in India.

The novel study is the first to thoroughly analyse and estimate the relative import of known risk factors for child undernutrition. The study used data from the third India National Family Health Survey (NFHS, 2005-06) on nearly 29,000 children aged 6-59 months to arrive at the major risk factors. The findings were published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

For the study, the researchers looked at 15 well-known risk factors implicated in chronic undernutrition in Indian children. They found that the 5 main predictors of childhood stunting and underweight were short maternal stature, lack of education in mothers, extreme poverty, poor dietary diversity and maternal underweight. These factors were also markers of poor socioeconomic conditions, and poor nutritional environments in children's households.

On a global scale, interventions for tackling undernutrition give high priority to factors like vitamin A status, breastfeeding, use of iodized salt, improved water and sanitation, and immunization. However in the Indian scenario these factors contribute to less than 15% of the undernutrition.

Emphasising the need for urgent measures to remedy the situation, S V Subramanian, professor of population health and geography and senior author of the study said that, "There is an immediate need to not waste time and resources on short-term and 'doable' interventions. While asking people to change behaviours and offering piecemeal solutions might provide some short-term relief, such strategies cannot be substituted for the urgent need to improve food and livelihood security."

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