Malnutrition: The Worst Enemy of India’s Young Children

Monday 24 July 2017

Malnutrition if often dubbed as “the silent emergency” for the underprivileged, especially children. Acute malnutrition is one of the main reasons behind high rates of under-five mortality. Apart from affecting children, malnutrition also strikes pregnant women. Due to the condition, undernourished mothers give birth to weak children, who are at a high risk of perishing during or after delivery.

1. Malnutrition in India
According to a report by the World Bank, India has one of the highest populations of children suffering from malnutrition in the world; one that is double the size of Sub-Saharan African countries. About 40% Indian children aged 1-5 years are severely malnourished. Malnutrition often results in stunting – a condition that hampers children’s physical and mental growth. A whopping 50 million children in the country are moderately or severely stunted. Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of malnourished children in the country (60%) followed by Jharkhand (56.5%) and Bihar (55.9%). It also leads to learning disabilities and increases risk of diabetes and hypertension in children.

3. Infant and child mortality
The standard Indian diet heavily depends on carbohydrates and starch. Indians show less interest in proteins and fat, which are essential for proper physical growth and mental development. Though access to toilets has been improving, nearly 50% of Indians still defecate in the open. This leads to young children picking up chronic infections which in turn can kill their appetite and induce malnutrition. Diseases like diarrhoea also lead to rampant loss of nutrients and results in malnutrition. According to UNICEF, Diarrhoea claims the lives of more than 117,000 Indian children on a yearly basis.

4. Maternal mortality
Most Indian children living in rural areas suffer from poor child health. While poverty remains the main cause of the same, poor maternal health is also one of the main causes that affects the health of millions of children across the country. If the mother is unwell, it compromises the baby’s chances of developing resistance to diseases. It also affects the nutritional value of breast milk and affects the health of children. Pregnant women in villages often have low BMIs and micronutrient deficiencies. Children of very young mothers also have 50% fewer chances of survival and are generally unhealthy.

India's war against malnutrition has been going strong till date and requires immense capacity-building. Organisations like Save the Children have been working with the government and have already yielded some tangible and inspiring milestones. By the end of 2014, India had seen 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. This is a monumental victory for India, which is home to the shortest kids in the world. Donate to NGOs like Save the Children and help the most underprivileged children get an access to sustained nutrition. This will not only help the children, but will also give you a sense of fulfilment and happiness.