India’s National Institution for Transforming India’s (NITI Aayog) nutrition charts showed that stunting in children under five was an issue across the country, but was especially prevalent in Bihar, where the incidence was recorded as 48.3%.
The percentage of children under five who were wasted was the highest in Jharkand at 29%; the state also had the highest proportion (47.8%) of underweight children below the age of five.
Country-wise, the overall stunting rate is 38.4%; as this figure falls between 30% and 40%, it is consdered ‘high’ by the UNICEF.
Additionally, while Bihar had the highest prevalence of stunting among children below five, Kerala had the lowest prevalence at 19.7%.
The NITI Aayog’s stunting map pointed to states in the central region, such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, as also having high levels of stunting, while the southernmost and northernmost states had the lowest levels.
These nutritional problems often lead to other complications: wasting, for instance, can result in tuberculosis and chronic diarrhoea if not treated.
The good news, however, is that unlike stunting — which is a chronic problem —a sound nutrition plan is likely to improve the situation.
Another health issue arising from malnutrition in India is anaemia, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkand, where the prevalence of anaemic children between the ages of six months and five years is nearly 70%.
In addition to its nutrition status report, the NITI Aayog also published a document entitled Nourishing India, in which it listed key strategies to tackle malnutrition in India, as well as emphasised the importance of multiple stakeholders and service delivery models.
Smrithi Adinarayanan and Varalakshmi Lakshminarayanan of social organisation the Anaadi Foundation said it was “convenient but also risky to adopt a quick-fix solution to boost nutrition levels” when dealing with such a large-scale problem.
They added that the NITI Aayog’s proposals for improving nutrition could be optimised by encouraging local food cultivation to ensure sustainable consumption of nutritious foods, saying that the AYUSH (Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) Ministry could help to design “a comprehensive nutrition plan (that) will prove highly beneficial”.
They further said the NITI Aayog should work with successful civil societies, holistic health system experts and local community experts “to design a plan that helps tackle the problem organically”.
“While quick-fix standardised solutions can improve indicator numbers in a short period of time, for long-term and robust health benefits of children and expectant mothers, a holistic solution is necessary.”