NEW DELHI: India has the highest number as well as proportion of children who are underweight and who suffer from stunting. And yet, India has no current data on the nutritional status of its population. The data available is almost a decade old since the national family health survey, which collects nutritional data, was last done in 2005-06.
Global and national academicians, researchers and experts in nutritiondecried the non-availability of recent country data on nutrition which is to inform policy decisions and formulating of strategies to tackle nutrition.
This issue was raised during the launch of a series of four papers on nutrition published by the medical journal Lancet called the Maternal and Child Nutrition Series. The series is meant to increase focus on “the unfinished agenda of undernutrition” since the launch of a similar series in 2008 called the Maternal and Child Undernutrition series.
In the Indian context, food security through more equitable distribution of food and community mobilisation were identified as the most effective ways to address the issue of malnutrition.
Stunting was identified in the series as a more telling indicator of malnutrition than being underweight. Incidentally, India is among the countries with the highest prevalence of stunting, with a wide gap in the prevalence of stunting in the wealthiest quintile of the population and the poorest quintile of the population. Such a wide gap is seen in very few countries, indicating serious problems in the distribution of food in India.
According to the series, a total investment of $9.6 billion will be required to address the problem of undernutrition globally. Of this amount, half will be accounted by India and Indonesia, the countries with the highest number of children suffering from malnutrition.
Of the $9.6 billion, it estimated that about $3.5 billion will have to be spent on micronutrient initiatives. This calculation has drawn charges of commercialisation of undernutrition through product-specific interventions against the Lancet series, as opposed to non-nutrition specific investments such as water, sanitation, women’s literacy and so on. Several participants and panelists at the launch cautioned against privatisation of interventions in the name of addressing malnutrition.
“Despite our robust growth, we will not achieve our full potential until we prioritize the health and nourishment of our people, beginning with the most vulnerable,.” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.