India is the country with the highest number of ‘stunted’ children in the world — in fact, nearly a third of all stunted children worldwide are to be found in India, says the Global Nutrition Report 2018, which was published on November 29.
There are 46.6 million children in our country who suffer from stunting (impaired growth or low height for age) — a result of poor nutrition intake in the long term and repeated infections.
Out of the total 150.8 million children in the world who are stunted, India is home to 31 per cent of them. The country is followed by Nigeria (13.9 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million) in terms of the largest population of stunted children. Together, the three countries account for almost half (47.2 per cent) of all stunted children on the planet, says the report.
Globally, stunting among children aged under five had fallen globally from 32.6 per cent in 2000 to 22.2 per cent in 2017, the report said.
What’s more, India is also the country with the highest number of children who are ‘wasted’ (low weight for height, indicating severe weight loss), an even more severe indicator of acute malnutrition.
India has 25.5 million children who are wasted — out of the 50.5 million children who are wasted globally, or half of the global wasting burden. India is again followed by Nigeria (3.4 million), and then Indonesia (3.3 million) in the number of wasted children.
For children under five years of age, wasting is a strong predictor of mortality. It is caused by starvation and/or disease.
The report says the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) used district-level aggregate data from the 2015-2016 National and Family Health Survey (NFHS), which covered 601,509 households in 604 districts in India, “to understand the causes of the spatial variation”.
The mapping showed that stunting varied greatly from district to district (12.4 per cent to 65.1 per cent), with 239 of 604 districts having stunting levels above 40 per cent.
The world over, 20 million babies are born with low birth weight each year, said the report.
Meanwhile, 38.3 million children the world over are overweight, while 38.9 per cent of adults are overweight or obese.
As per the country profile, as of 2015, the percentage of children Under 5 (both boys and girls) who were stunted was 37.9 per cent — while the percentage of children Under 5 who were wasted was 20.8 per cent.
Data for nutrition status by household income levels showed that predictably, the households with the lowest incomes had the highest number of wasting (23.8 per cent) and stunting (50.7 per cent) among children aged under five years.
As for the rural-urban divide, 40.7 per cent of children under five years of age were stunted in rural India while 30.6 per cent of children were stunted in urban India, while 21.1 per cent children aged under five were wasted in rural areas and 19.9 per cent were wasted in urban areas.
As for the nutrition status of children and adolescents aged between five and19 years, 58.1 per cent of boys were underweight while 50.1 per cent girls were underweight. This difference between the genders can likely be attributed to India’s adverse sex ratio in the first place.
Among adults, more than half of all women of reproductive age (WRA), whether or not they were pregnant, suffered from anaemia — at 51.4 per cent.
Globally, one third of all women of reproductive age have anaemia, said the report, while women also have a higher prevalence of obesity than men.
The profile also had figures for a bunch of ‘underlying determinants’, such as food supply, female secondary education enrolment, etc., but the data for some of these determinants was rather dated. As of 2016, 15 per cent of the population suffered from undernourishment in terms of food supply. As of 2015, 12 per cent of the population did not have ‘basic’ drinking water coverage while 56 per cent of the population did not have ‘basic’ sanitation coverage.
The sources for the data in the country profile were mentioned as “UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group: Joint child malnutrition estimates, NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, WHO Global Health Observatory”.
The Global Nutrition Report came into existence “following the first Nutrition for Growth Initiative Summit (N4G) in 2013 as a mechanism for tracking the commitments made by 100 stakeholders spanning governments, aid donors, civil society, the UN and businesses.”