13 May ReliefWeb -- Rates of malnutrition among India’s children are almost five times more than in China, and twice those in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Too often, new mothers are adolescents. A staggering 75% of them are anemic and most on put on less weight during pregnancy than they should - 5 kilograms on average compared to the worldwide average of close to 10kgs.

 

Malnutrition is India’s silent emergency and among India’s greatest human development challenges. Although India has seen strong economic growth over the past 20 years, malnutrition in children under five years of age continues to be among the highest in the world.

 

Rates of malnutrition among India’s children are almost five times more than in China, and twice those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half of all India’s children - approximately 60 million - are underweight, about 45% are stunted (too short for their age), 20% are wasted (too thin for their height, indicating acute malnutrition), 75% are anemic, and 57% are Vitamin A deficient.

 

Malnutrition affects children’s chances of survival, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, increases their chances of dropping out early from school, and makes them less productive in later life. Much of this undernourishment happens during pregnancy and in the first two years of a child’s life and, without appropriate interventions, the damage to brain development and future economic productivity is largely irreversible.

 

Given its impact on health, education and economic productivity, persistent under-nutrition is a major obstacle to human development, impacting India’s much-awaited demographic dividend and the country’s prospects for future economic growth.

 

While aggregate levels of malnutrition in India are alarmingly high, there are significant inequalities across states and socioeconomic groups with girls, rural areas, the poorest people, and scheduled tribes and castes being the worst affected. Six states - Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh - account for over half of India’s malnutrition cases, while an additional 8 to 10% of the burden is concentrated in specific areas of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.