About 42 percent of all Indian children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition, according to a new survey.
“Child malnutrition is widespread across states and districts and starts early in life: 42 per cent of children under five are underweight and 59 per cent are stunted,” states the HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) Report, which surveyed 73,000 households across nine states.
Of the 112 districts surveyed, 100 are those with the poorest child development indicators. These districts are located across six states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
According to the report, the prevalence of malnutrition is significantly higher among children from low-income families. Children from Muslim or SC/ST households generally have worse nutrition indicators.
Releasing the report in New Delhi last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the problem of malnutrition was a matter of ‘national shame’. “Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high. We have also not succeeded in reducing this rate fast enough,” he observed.
Singh said the findings of the report were both “worrying and encouraging” for India. The survey found the proportion of under-fives who are underweight had declined 11 percentage points in seven years, but Singh said it remained “unacceptably high” at 42 percent.
The report also found that of the stunted children, about half are severely stunted and about half of all children are underweight or stunted by the time they are two years.
The report further highlights continued negligence shown towards girls even in their early childhood, with the nutrition advantage girls have over boys in the first months of life seems to be reversed over time as they grow older.
According to the report, the awareness among mothers about nutrition is very low, with a whopping 92 % never having heard the word “malnutrition”.
On Anganwadi Centres, the report said it was widespread but not always efficient. “61 per cent of Anganwadi Centres had dried rations available and 50 per cent provided food on the day of survey; only 19 per cent of the mothers reported that the Anganwadi Centre provides nutrition counselling to parents.”
The survey was conducted by Naandi Foundation across nine states. Data collection took place between October 2010 and February 2011.