The Malaise Of Malnutrition

By moderator July 10, 2019 14:15

A new report, ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019’, authored by the Government of India and the United Nations World Food Programme, paints a picture of hunger and malnutrition amongst children in large pockets of India.

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  • The report shows the poorest sections of a society caught in a trap of poverty and malnutrition, which is being passed on from generation to generation. 
  • Mothers who are hungry and malnourished produce children who are stunted, underweight and unlikely to develop to achieve their full human potential.
    • Stunting and malnourishment start not with the child, but with the mother. An adolescent girl who is malnourished and anaemic tends to be a mother who is malnourished and anaemic. This, in turn, increased the chances of her child being stunted.
  • The effects of malnourishment in a small child are not merely physical. A developing brain that is deprived of nutrients does not reach its full mental potential.
    • This, in turn, affects the child’s ability to learn at school, leading to a lifetime of poverty and lack of opportunity.
    • These poor hungry children are likely to be tomorrow’s hungry, unemployed and undereducated adults.

A study in the Lancet notes, “Undernutrition can affect cognitive development by causing direct structural damage to the brain and by impairing infant motor development.”

Another study in the Lancet observes, “These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.”

  • The findings in the report are not new: many studies over the last five years have exposed the failure of the Indian state to ensure that its most vulnerable citizens are provided adequate nutrition in their early years.
    • India has long been home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world.
    • The highest levels of stunted and underweight children are found in Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
    • Over 40% of children from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes are stunted. Close to 40% of children from the Other Backward Classes are stunted.
  • However, some progress has been made in reducing the extent of malnutrition.
    • The proportion of children with chronic malnutrition decreased from 48% per cent in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16. 
    • The percentage of underweight children decreased from 42.5% to 35.7% over the same period. 
    • Anaemia in young children decreased from 69.5% to 58.5% during this period. But this progress is small.

Government Initiative to control malnutrition

  • The government’s National Nutrition Mission (renamed as Poshan Abhiyaan) aims to reduce stunting (a measure of malnutrition that is defined as the height that is significantly below the norm for age) by 2% a year, bringing down the proportion of stunted children in the population to 25% by 2022.

Issues with Poshan Abhiyan

    • Despite the modest target, it will require doubling the current annual rate of reduction in stunting.
    • A year after it was launched, State and Union Territory governments have only used 16% of the funds allocated to them.
    • Anganwadis are key to the distribution of services to mothers and children. But many States, including Bihar and Odisha, which have large vulnerable populations, are struggling to set up functioning anganwadis, and recruit staff.
    • There is limited access to food for the poor and marginalized.
      • As Amartya Sen noted, famines are caused not by shortages of food, but by inadequate access to food. And for the poor and marginalised, access to food is impeded by social, administrative and economic barriers.
  • In the case of children and their mothers, this could be anything from non-functioning or neglectful governments at the State, district and local levels to entrenched social attitudes that see the poor and marginalised as less than equal citizens who are meant to be an underclass and are undeserving of government efforts to provide them food and lift them out of poverty.


Malnutrition and stunting raise moral and ethical questions about the nature of a state and society where despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remain high.

As one part of the country lives in a 21st century economy, ordering exotic cuisines over apps, another part struggles with the most ancient of realities: finding enough to eat to tide them over till the next day.

Also read: India Slips 5 Places To 141 On Global Peace Index 2019

Global Gender Gap Report 2018 & Women Employment in India


By moderator July 10, 2019 14:15