India is home to more 48.2 million stunted children, and one-third of all girls in the country suffer the condition, says a global report by Save the Children.
Considered as one of the major impediments to human development in the world, childhood stunting affects 162 million children under the age of 5. It, being too short for one’s age, is defined as a height that is more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organization child growth standards median. A largely irreversible outcome, stunting is caused by growth failure that often begins in uterus and continues after birth.
Stunting has serious and long-term effects such as diminished cognitive and physical development, poor health, and high risk of diseases such as diabetes. Stunted children experience a lifetime of lost opportunities in education and work, and they are more likely to succumb to illness and disease. India is home to more 48.2 million stunted children, and one-third of all girls in the country suffer the condition, says a global report by Save the Children.
Globally, stunting rates are higher for boys than girls. However, in South Asia, owing to the preference for boys and boys being fed better, stunting among adolescent girls is widespread. The same report indicates that in India, one-third of girls aged 15-19 are stunted. The levels of stunting in children is above the national average in Uttar Pradesh (56.8%), Bihar (55.6%), Chhattisgarh (52.9%), Gujarat (51.7%), Meghalaya (55.1%), Madhya Pradesh (50%) and Jharkhand (49.8%).
Only direct interventions can address a large part of the problem. The interventions entail improving access to nutrient supplements, exclusive breastfeeding, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, along with measures in other sectors. In 2016, India allocated approximately $5.3 billion in total to nutrition-specific programmes, such as the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and the National Health Mission. It also allocated $31.6 billion in total to several programmes aimed at improving the underlying determinants of nutrition, such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), which ensures on food security; Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which aims livelihood security in rural areas; and the Swachh Bharat Mission, which targets better sanitation. Resultantly, among the countries affected by stunting, India is among the 10 countries that have made some progress, says the Global Nutrition Report.
Countries with highest rates of stunting are the countries where the levels of under-nutrition are high. Eventhough the Indian economy has been growing at an impressive rate, the highest number of stunted children in the world, representing one third of the global total, reside in the country. This reality calls for a consistent and dedicated policy in place to prevent stunting.
N. Bobo Meitei