One third of the world's stunted children live in India

Desiree Burns
December 2, 2018

Stunting in children under five years of age is declining at a global level but numbers in Africa are increasing, and there are significant disparities in progress at the subnational level.

Eating unhealthy food, or not having enough food - including children unable to breastfeed - contribute to widespread malnutrition, said researchers behind the latest Global Nutrition Report.

India is third on the list of countries with more than a million overweight children.

It estimates that malnutrition could cost society up to United States $3.5 trillion (£2.7 billion) a year, with the cost of people being overweight and obese alone amounting to USA $500 billion (£391 billion).

According to the Global Nutrition Report 2018, India is facing a major malnutrition crisis as it holds nearly a third of world's burden for stunting. As per the UNICEF, stunting, or low height for age, is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections. Results showed that stunting varies greatly from district to district (12.4 per cent to 65.1 per cent), with 239 of 604 districts accounting for stunting levels above 40 per cent.

"This study is important in that it reinforced the multi-sectoral nature of stunting by highlighting that differences between districts were explained by many factors associated with gender, education, economic status, health, hygiene, and other demographic factors".

The 2018 Global Nutrition Report indicates that several countries globally are struggling with three forms of malnutrition, namely stunting in children, anemia and overweight.

In urban areas, there are 7.1 per cent overweight children on average, whereas in rural areas 6.2 per cent children are overweight. India recorded 25.5 million children who are wasted, followed by Nigeria (3.4 million) and Indonesia (3.3 million).

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India also figures among the set of countries that has more than a million overweight children. As part of the report, a case study in Rajasthan found that key areas of infant and young child feeding and micronutrient supplementation were underfunded. The results suggest a disparity between developed and emerging markets, says the report.

In India, particularly, the burden is heavier than any other nation.

The report attaches strong hope to curing malnutrition by making use of these advantages and following five simple steps: develop comprehensive programmes, prioritise and invest in the data needed and capacity to use it, scale up and diversify financing for nutrition, focus on healthy diets to drive better nutrition everywhere and improve the targets and commitments that are driving actors to achieve desirable goals.

The Global Nutrition Report classifies India as experiencing two forms of malnutrition - anaemia and stunting.

Prevalence of overweight children is the highest in upper-middle income countries and the lowest in low-income countries, the report said.

"You have to care about what people are eating if you want to build the intellect of your country", she said.

Co-chairwoman of the report, and director of the Centre for Food Policy, Corinna Hawkes, said the figures called for "immediate action".

Poor diets are among the top causes of ill health globally, accounting for almost one in five deaths, according to a study published on Thursday that called on governments and businesses to do more to improve eating habits. "So something needs to get us back on track with our food system", said Jessica Fanzo, a professor at the US Johns Hopkins University and a lead author of the report. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless.

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