Setting a proper diet plan -Shailender Kumar Hooda & Rabiul Ansary
To tackle malnutrition, food prices must be regulated and the PDS strengthened in both developed and poor States
Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India has been ranked at 103 out of 119 countries, with hunger levels categorised as “serious”, in the Global Hunger Index 2018. Strikingly, in July, three girls died of starvation resulting from prolonged malnutrition in the national capital Delhi, which has a high per capita income. India’s child malnourishment level is not only the highest in the world but varies considerably across States. As per the National Family Health Survey-2016, the proportion of stunted (low height for age) children under five is significantly higher (38.4%) than global (22.9%) averages. The underweight (low weight for age) children rate (35.7%) is a lot higher than the global average (13.5%) too. India is home to over 53.3 million stunted, 49.6 million underweight and 29.2 million wasted (low weight for height) children under five.
Growing prosperity has hardly made any significant dent in chronic malnutrition of children. Faster economic growth has enormous benefits, but it is by no means sufficient and sustainable if millions of children remain undernourished, as it not only impacts early childhood health and imposes disease burden but also affects education, wages and productivity when they grow up, which will impact India’s growth. Where does the solution lie?
One problem lies with the current thinking of growth-oriented development. No doubt, the low income and Empowered-Action-Group (EAG) States face major challenges to improve malnutrition, but, two EAG States, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, have performed better on this front compared to Gujarat and Maharashtra where per capita income is almost double. The development path prevalent in Gujarat is more about growth and investment, which, however, has not been able to translate as better nutritional status in the State. Odisha, which is a low income State, has a better network of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), public health facility/workforce per lakh population and educational attainment among women, which have translated into a better nutritional status when compared with Gujarat. Further, tribals, rural, poor and illiterate mothers’ children are badly off in so-called developed States of Haryana, Gujarat and Punjab. These groups are also affected in poorer States of U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Around two-thirds of stunted/underweight children are from 200 districts of both less developed and developed States.
Agriculture v. hunger
Another prominent idea is the need to link agriculture and nutrition, as agriculture provides answers to most nutrition problems. Our estimates, however, show malnutrition continues to be high in agricultural surplus States like Haryana (34% stunting and 29.5% underweight). Worryingly, malnutrition in some of its agriculturally-developed districts (Karnal, Panipat, Sonipat, Rohtak as well as in Gurugram) is even higher than the average of Odisha. Recently, Madhya Pradesh has registered double-digit growth in food grain production making it one of the wheat granaries of India, but acute malnutrition is still critical in most of its districts with a high proportion of underweight (42.8%) and stunted children (41.9%).
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