India's battle against malnutrition

India’s Battle Against Malnutrition

India has been ranked 94 on the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), lower than neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan. The GHI is an annual peer-reviewed publication by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

  • The number of young children in India who are very short and thin puts it alongside the poorest African nations.
  • In 2020, India falls in the ‘serious’ category on the Index, with a total score of 27.2.

Hunger & Malnutrition: Comparison With BRICS Countries

  • India’s GHI scores in 2020 are abysmal when compared to its peers in the BRICS countries. China and Brazil both scored under five, and are considered to have very low levels of hunger. South Africa is ranked 60 with a score of 13.5, indicating moderate levels of hunger. In the serious category, India stands with some of the poorest African nations, as well as its own South Asian neighbours.
  • As per the latest index, 14% of India’s population does not get enough calories; in 2005, it was 20%.

Main Causes For High Levels Of Child Stunting And Wasting In India

  • In India, mothers are too young, too short, too thin and too undernourished themselves, before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then after giving birth, during breast-feeding.
  • Almost 42% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have a low body mass index (BMI), while 54% have anaemia. Almost 27% of girls are married before they reach the legal age of 18 years, and 8% of adolescents have begun child bearing in their teens.
  • Poor sanitation, leading to diarrhoea, is another major cause of child wasting and stunting.

Wide variability across States

In terms of stunting, Bihar performs the worst, with 42% of children too short for their age. Other populous States like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh also have stunting rates just below 40%, and so does Gujarat. At the other end of the scale, Jammu and Kashmir has only 15% stunted children, while Tamil Nadu and Kerala are around the 20% mark.

What Needs To Be Done To Eradicate Malnutrition In India

  • India should improve access to healthy food.
  • The Swachh Bharat Mission’s push for toilets for all and ending open defecation have started showing positive results. As far as this scheme is concerned, this momentum needs to be maintained.
  • Much work is still needed to bring the true benefits of the National Food Security Act to the unreached.
  • PDS should be strengthened, with a focus on women’s health. This will lead to healthier pregnancies.
  • Stronger supplemental nutrition under the ICDS scheme should be launched.

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