Malnutrition is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India.
Malnutrition limits development and the capacity to learn. It also costs lives: about 50 per cent of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition.
In India, around 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted. Many of these children are severely malnourished.
The prevalence of malnutrition varies across states, with Madhya Pradesh recording the highest rate (55 per cent) and Kerala among the lowest (27 per cent).
Malnutrition in children is not affected by food intake alone; it is also influenced by access to health services, quality of care for the child and pregnant mother as well as good hygiene practices. Girls are more at risk of malnutrition than boys because of their lower social status.
1 in 3 of the world's malnourished children lives in India.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies also affect children’s survival and development. Anaemia affects 74 per cent of children under the age of three, more than 90 per cent of adolescent girls and 50 per cent of women. Iodine deficiency, which reduces learning capacity by up to 13 per cent, is widespread because fewer than half of all households use iodised salt. Vitamin A deficiency, which causes blindness and increases morbidity and mortality among pre-schoolers, also remains a public-health problem.
Malnutrition places a heavy burden on India. It is linked to half of all child deaths and nearly a quarter of cases of disease. Malnourished children tend not to reach their potential, physically or mentally, and they do worse at school than they otherwise would. This has a direct impact on productivity: the World Bank reckons that in low-income Asian countries physical impairments caused by malnutrition knock 3% off GDP. Why, then, has India done so little to reduce it?
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