India needs a faster rate of decline in stunting of children under 5 years of age
While child malnutrition in India has come down, it still remains worryingly high, as the latest Global Nutrition Report shows. Between 2006 and 2014, stunting—which is caused due to lack of adequate nutrition—among children under 5 in the country fell from 48% to 39%, while the global figure is 24%. While the national rate of decline in stunting has increased from 1.7% in 2006 to nearly 2.6%, as pointed out by the International Food Policy Research institute, it is still far too slow a speed—in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the rate was slower than the national average—especially in the context of the global development goals on nutrition.
With the prospects of 44 million children—that is the report’s estimate of children under 5 in India who are stunted—already undermined, India can’t afford to be slow on countering malnutrition. Since part of the problem begins in vivo (inside the mother’s womb)—that means maternal under-nutrition sets the ball rolling for future stunting—focussing on improving nutrition, like Microsoft chairperson and philanthropist Bill Gates and Tata Trust chairperson Ratan Tata have written of in a column, for the mother in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and her child’s second birthday would be one of the obvious steps. The other cause of malnutrition and stunting, preventable early life infections due to poor hygiene, need to be countered with policy steps like increasing access to sanitary toilets under Swachh Bharat.