How Malnutrition is a Destroyer of Childhood

Monday 15 May 2017

Despite decades of public sector initiatives to provide nutrition to our children, India fares poorly when it comes to nutrition access. India is ranked among African countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia on the 2014 Global Nutrition Report for malnutrition, and India has one of the world’s highest number of children suffering from malnutrition (World Bank).  India’s Global Hunger Index India ranking (67 the 80 nations), places India even below North Korea or Sudan. 38% of children under 5 are severely malnourished, while 72% of infants have anaemia. Here is how lack of nutrition can destroy childhoods across India.

Stunted growth

48% of children in India suffer from stunted growth; in 2006 their number was around 61 million. Stunting happens due to severe malnutrition during the most critical periods of childhood. It’s calculated as the percentage of children among those below 60 months of age whose height is two or more standard deviations lower than the median for WHO Child Growth Standards. Stunting affects the brain and lowers mental capacity, induces learning disabilities and increases the risk of hypertension and diabetes.

Infant and child mortality

Indians are used to a carbohydrate-high diet and this leads to neglect towards healthy fats and proteins which are essential for children’s growth and development. The rampant vegetarianism also has a negative impact with poor vegetarians abstaining from cheaper sources of protein like egg and meat. Nearly half our population still practices open defecation leading to chronic infections among young kids. 117,000 Indian children die due to diarrhoea every year.

Maternal mortality

It’s not just India’s young children who are suffering from poor health, but also their mothers. An unhealthy mother means higher chances of a baby’s immunity is compromised. High-risk pregnancies and young motherhood are chief reasons for the increase in maternal mortality in India. Pregnant women here also suffer from poor BMIs and micronutrient deficiencies. Even their babies have half the chance of survival and battle health issues throughout life.

Causes of Malnutrition

The prominence of carbohydrate in Indian diets combined with the avoidance of protein and fats during early growth years is a cause for worry. This is increasingly evident among the vegetarians who make for a sizeable population in India. Poor health of the mother affects the nutritional value of milk and compromises baby’s immunity. Women need to be well fed during pregnancy and this is sadly not always possible in Indian households. Hygiene is of utmost importance and lack of access to toilets has hampered it in India. Half of our population still defecates in open, leaving themselves vulnerable to parasites and infections.

Save the Children’s role to battle malnutrition

Establishing grassroots centres that check on high rates of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

Via the Nutrition For Babies campaign, Save the Children gives nutrition rehab to the malnourished and resources to mothers and doctors. ‘Poshan Vatika’ initiative grows nutritious seasonal vegetables that are served to children in Mid-Day Meals programme. In Chennai slums ‘Aaharam’ is raising awareness about malnutrition among mothers and communities. In Maharashtra, malnourished children across 30 Integrated Child Development Scheme centres were treated with support from Anganwadi workers.


High expenditure is incurred on not only purchasing the food rations needed, but also for food rehabilitation, as well as nutrition screening. These facilities and nutrition access need to be to be transported to geographies across India. Donate to charity to help build and maintain these life-saving capabilities.  There are some inspiring milestones in India's war on hunger. End-2014 results showed a dramatic fall in underweight and stunted children (from 48 % to 39 % (2005-6 and 2013-14). This translates to 14.5 million fewer stunted children, a big achievement for India, home to the shortest kids in the world. A nation-wide Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), showed a marked improvement in malnutrition.