Save the Children from Hunger & Malnutrition

At a time when economic wisdom is seen as lying in allowing unrestrained play of economic power and cutting social sector spending, here is a report emphasising the economic sense in addressing hunger, especially child malnutrition. It also brings out the positive impact of employment guarantee scheme, which has been a thrust area of the UPA government but has seen a cut in allocation in Budget proposals for 2012-13.

The report seeks to impress upon the government that 2012 is a vital year to get nutrition right for children and to end the hidden malnutrition crisis. By mid-2013, it will already be too late to provide protection from stunting for the last generation of children who will reach their second birthday – a key nutrition milestone – by the MDG deadline.

The report “A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling child malnutrition (2012)”, by Save the Children analyses the causes of malnutrition, focusing on chronic malnutrition and stunting in children. It identifies solutions that are proven to be effective in containing child malnutrition:

a) direct interventions, such as exclusive breastfeeding, micronutrient supplementation and fortification;

b) indirect interventions, such as introducing social protection programmes, and adapting agricultural production to meet the nutritional needs of children.

The report finds that social protection schemes have been gaining global momentum in recent years and are playing an important part in reducing poverty in many countries.

Latin American countries, like Brazil and Mexico, were the trailblazers for these initiatives in the last decade. Similar initiatives have now been introduced in low-income countries such as Ethiopia and Bangladesh, with China, India and Nigeria – the countries with the first, second and seventh largest populations – considering introducing programmes for the first time.

Stressing the need for action, the report says the countries with high numbers of malnourished and stunted children must be committed to improving nutrition. Countries with large populations of children under five, such as Nigeria and India, should take inspiration from success stories of Brazil, Bangladesh and Ghana and strive to reduce the percentage of under-fives who are malnourished.

It is critically important for nutrition to become part of the agenda at forthcoming G20 summit. Two members of the G20 – Brazil and Mexico – have made great progress in reducing malnutrition, while other G20 members are lagging behind. For example, nearly half of all the children in India are stunted and it is home to more than a third of the world’s stunted children. Achieving high-level political commitment from other countries at the G20 to improve nutrition would therefore be significant in tackling the global malnutrition crisis.

Key findings of the report are as follows:

* 48% of children in India are stunted; 450 million children around the world will be affected by stunting in the next 15 years, if current trends continue.

* The economic losses due to undernutrition are pervasive – stunted children are predicted to earn an average of 20% less when they become adults; tackling malnutrition in early life can lead to as much as a 46% increase in earnings as an adult.

* Productivity loss due to foregone wage employment was estimated to be US$2.3 billion a year in India. It’s estimated that 2–3% of the national income of a country can be lost to malnutrition.

* Poor breastfeeding practices can lead to higher healthcare costs for families due to increased child illness, and in the long term can increase the risk of chronic diseases and obesity; can increase infant illness, requiring mothers to miss work; using formula or other breast milk substitutes involves additional costs and workload for households.

* Social protection schemes that provide a safety net during hard times have proved successful in many countries in protecting families from the worst effects of poverty. A study by Ravi and Engler (2009) on the impact of the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA in India, which guarantees poor households 100 days of paid employment, found the scheme increased food spending by 40% on average, and that the effect is strongest for the poorest households who participated in the scheme the longest.

* Staple food prices hit record highs globally in February 2011 and may have put the lives of upto 400,000 more children at risk.

* One-fourth of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries this figure is as high as one in three. That means their body and brain has failed to develop properly because of malnutrition.

* Every hour, 300 children die because of malnutrition. Malnutrition is an underlying cause of the death of 2.6 million children each year – one-third of the global total of children’s deaths.

* Global progress on stunting has been extremely slow. The proportion of children who are stunted fell from 40% in 1990 to 27% in 2010 – an average of just 0.6 percentage points per year.

* In 2008 the Lancet medical journal identified a package of 13 direct interventions – such as vitamin A and zinc supplements, iodised salt, and the promotion of healthy behaviour, including handwashing, exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices – that were proven to have an impact on the nutrition and health of children and mothers.

This cost-effective and affordable package could prevent the deaths of almost 2 million children under five and a substantial amount of illness if it was delivered to children in the 36 countries that are home to 90% of the world’s malnourished children.

* At a cost of just over US$1 per person per year, the World Bank has estimated that more than 4 billion people would be able to benefit from access to fortified wheat, iron, complementary food and micronutrient powders. Fortification, or the process of adding vitamins and minerals to food, is one of the most cost-effective direct interventions.


A Life Free from Hunger:Tackling child malnutrition, Save the Children,

India-UndernourishedChildren: A Call for Reform and Action, The World Bank

Child Malnutrition inIndia: Putting the smallest first, The Economist, 23 September, 2010

Accelerating progresstoward reducing child malnutrition in India by Joachim von Braun, Marie Rueland Ashok Gulati (2008), IFPRI

India hungers for rupeeswhile its children go without food by Ben Doherty, The Sydney Morning Herald,17 March, 2012,

Status of children inIndia, InfoChange News & Features, June 2007

The Budget’s Big Focus onMalnutrition by Geeta Anand, The Wall Street Journal, 16 March, 2012

Needed, more HUNGaMA overmalnutrition-Gopalan Balagopal, The Hindu, 6 March, 2012,

5.3 p.c. share for childrenin budget-Aarti Dhar, The Hindu, 18 March, 2012 

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