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Stunting still plagues Indian children; many factors at play, concur experts

Posted:  Monday, November 16, 2015

Being stunted or short for age is not just a matter of genetics. Although the global estimates for stunting stands at 25%, the statistic for India stands at a high 40%, irrespective of all income groups. Experts find that poor nutrition and sanitation are the key drivers influencing stunting among Indian children.

The 2014 Global Nutrition Report placed India among a list of 38 nations including the poor countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. India has been investing in the cause of child malnutrition for decades now and to some extent being successful in reducing the incidence of stunting. However, India still gets counted among countries with low Gross Domestic Product.

The problems, as experts observe, doesn’t just lie with poor availability of food but lack of sanitation and toilets. Although getting people to improve on hygiene is tough, the other big problem is also gender inequality to ward off chronic malnutrition.

Be it the state of the mother’s health and well-being, what she is fed, her general health and the exposure to violence. “Malnutrition in pregnant women leads to poor pre-pregnancy body-mass index (BMI) and inadequate weight gain during pregnancy, along with severe micronutrient deficiency. These heighten the risk of intrauterine growth retardation and low birth weight, which affects the physical and intellectual development of the child’’, said Dr. Aparna Hegde, founder of Mumbai-based NGO ARMMAN (Advancing Reduction in Mortality and Morbidity of Mothers, Children and Neonates).

The third National Family Health Survey figures found that over 36% women between the ages 15–49 years reported a BMI of less than 18.5 whereas in Mumbai, over 70% of the women were anaemic.

Stunting doesn’t just mar appearance but is also a marker for a range of developmental problems. The other risks include wasting (poor weight to height ratio); poor cognitive development; hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. Even the Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton focused on stunting in India and its dynamics.

The experts find that years of nutritional insult can’t be undone in one single shot and hence efforts at improving stunting figures must be continued. A good example can that be of the Dutch, who went from being the shortest in the world to the tallest by working on the nutrition and hygiene.

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