4 out of 10 kids stunted

Four in 10 children aged under five in India suffer from stunting despite the country's gains in agricultural and economic growth, a new report warned today, highlighting what experts say is "the biggest loss of human potential in history."

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 11.12.15
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New Delhi, Dec. 10: Four in 10 children aged under five in India suffer from stunting despite the country's gains in agricultural and economic growth, a new report warned today, highlighting what experts say is "the biggest loss of human potential in history."

The proportion of children under five years of age with signs of stunted growth - caused by malnutrition, inappropriate feeding practices and poor socio-economic conditions - declined from 48 per cent in 2006 to 39 per cent in 2014, the report has said.

But, the report said, India is still home to about 40 million stunted children who display reduced growth during early childhood and are at risk of its long-term consequences - poor learning ability and school performance and unachieved potential.

"We're staring in India at the largest loss of human potential in history," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice-president of the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India, a research institution that produced the report in collaboration with other institutions.

China, during the 1960s, had about 29 million births every year, but only 18 per cent stunting among children. India, in contrast, currently has about 26 million births every year and 39 per cent of stunting. Only Niger, Malawi and Madagascar currently have higher stunting prevalence levels than India.

"Our findings reflect what some economists have said - 1 that India is trying to grow at a superpower rate without investing adequately in human development," Laxminarayan told The Telegraph.

The report has found that Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have the highest rates of stunting of about 50 per cent. Although stunting is lower in states with higher average incomes, there are significant variations even with such states.

In Punjab, which best represents the national average per capita income of about Rs 49,500, the prevalence of stunting among children under five is 30.5 per cent. Although Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have similar income levels, their stunting rates are 23 per cent and 41 per cent.

"The worst-affected states seem to have the perfect storm contributing to their levels of stunting," said Laxminarayan. The report has also revealed a strong link between stunting and early age of marriage for women, poor immunisation and poor sanitation and open defecation.

Bengal has a stunting prevalence of about 35 per cent, according to the report that analysed trends in maternal and child under-nutrition across India's states and looked for connections between stunting and various social and economic factors.

"The report highlights critical relationships between indicators of women's status and nutrition - this is an absolutely urgent area for action," said Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, and co-author of the report. "The scope of action needs to be broad, touching food security, sanitation and anti-poverty programmes."

Union health minister J.P. Nadda, who released the report at a function here today, conceded the need for urgent action at the state level. "Accelerating action at the state-level ... must now be fought at the ground level in communities and (in) homes," Nadda said.