The invisible factor of malnutrition – Stunting

Melvin Alex, an intern at CRY’s Media mentorship program writes about Indian kids suffering from stunted growth as a result of insufficient nourishment.


Malnourishment in India. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Malnourishment in India. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Among a group of 38 nations (many with GDP’s lesser than India), India has 48% of its children below the age of 5 who are stunted (those who are too short for their age) as per the Global Nutrition Report 2014.The percentage of stunted children is relatively higher as compared to countries in South Asia including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives.

So why is stunting a big deal when it comes to a child’s health? As per the World Health Organization when a child is shorter than the reference population (set by WHO), then that child is said to be stunted. Amongst the world’s population Indian children are the shortest in the world.  According to UNICEF, stunting is associated with an under developed brain.  This is because of receiving inadequate nutrition early in life especially in the first 1,000 days or from the beginning of pregnancy until approximately age 2 and that is why they are stunted. An under developed brain would mean the child would grow up having diminished mental ability and learning capacity. This would obviously have a poor impact on school performance and increased risk of nutrition related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. It is believed that stunting and other forms of under-nutrition are thought to be responsible for nearly half of all child deaths globally. Inaccessibility to healthy environment and hygienic surroundings coupled with a poor diet, infants can get irreversibly affected, for the worse.

Weight has been considered as the major indicator of nutrition but even the World Bank emphasizes on “the need to use stunting as a primary indicator of chronic under-nutrition”. WB also says that stunting is associated not only with failure in physical growth but also with an impaired brain and cognitive development. This fact comes at a time when India has the highest number of underweight children below the age of five. India accounts for more number of stunted and wasted children than Africa. Owing to governmental and non-governmental agencies’ consecutive awareness campaigns to young mothers on the importance of breast-feeding, the number of infants below the age of six months being breastfed increased. The situation has changed, but change has happened, albeit, very slowly.

Inadequate nutrition is one of the many causes of stunting and although the government has developed many schemes to counter malnutrition via Anganwadis, due to poor implementation of these schemes, the impact has been very limited. India was one of the first countries in the world to have a separate budget for children but for the last 15 years only 5% of the total Union Budget allocation was made for children according to an analysis by HAQ’s Budget for children. It is surprising to know that Asia’s third-largest economy spends about 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health as compared to 3% in China and 8.3% in the United States.

This means that out of every 100 rupees allocated in the Union Budget the share for children have never gone up to 5 rupees. Incidentally in the 2014-2015 Budget, out of every 100 rupees allocated, the share for children was only 4.52% whereas in the 2015-2016 Budget the allocated amount fell down to 3%. Over the years the budget allocation for health for children has decreased. With the fall of allocated budget for children it is not possible to improve child health outcomes, particularly for the poor. Because of this thousands of children die every year from preventable infections and diseases.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Rural Health Mission and The Total Sanitation Campaign are some of the major programs that have been introduced by the government. Strengthening these schemes will benefit children and also help the public in general. To make these schemes reach its full potential infrastructure and accessibility must be improved. There needs to be a dedicated focus on the critical 1000-day window from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. Improving optimal breastfeeding practices remains a key to ensuring a child’s healthy growth development. In ICDS centers, anthropometric (refers to the measurement of the human individual) measurements* is a good way to track malnutrition and can help create a focused intervention plan to counter stunting in children. There must be a convergence between ICDS and health services to strengthen early childhood care and development policy. Strengthening the quality and regularity of growth monitoring and strengthening the component of Nutritional counseling can go a long way towards improving children’s nutritional status in India. Stunting is irreversible; would we want our children to be pushed to a future where they cannot live to their fullest, best potential?

 

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CRY - Child Rights and You is an Indian NGO that believes in every child's right to a childhood - to live, learn, grow and play. For over 30 years, CRY and its 200 partner NGOs have worked with parents and communities to ensure Lasting Change in the lives of more than 2,000,000 underprivileged children, across 23 states in India. For more information please visit us at: www.cry.org more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CRY - Child Rights and You is an Indian NGO that believes in every child's right to a childhood - to live, learn, grow and play. For over 30 years, CRY and its 200 partner NGOs have worked with parents and communities to ensure Lasting Change in the lives of more than 2,000,000 underprivileged children, across 23 states in India. For more information please visit us at: www.cry.org more

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