According to a global nutrition report, published on Thursday, India is facing a major malnutrition crisis as it holds almost a third of the world’s burden for stunting.
The Global Nutrition Report 2018 said that with 46.6 million (31 per cent) children stunted, India tops the list of countries followed by Nigeria (13.9 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million).
Stunting, or low height for age, is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient-intake and frequent infections. India also accounted for 25.5 million children who are wasted, followed by Nigeria (3.4 million) and Indonesia (3.3 million).
Wasting, or low weight for height, is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. It is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and disease.
“More than half of the world’s children impacted by wasting (26.9 million) live in South Asia. Of the three countries that are home to almost half (47.2 per cent) of all stunted children, two are in Asia, with India having 46.6 million (31 per cent) and Pakistan having 10.7 million,” the report said.
Globally 150.8 million children under five years are stunted and 50.5 million are wasted, the report said.
India also figures among the set of countries that has more than a million overweight children. The other nations are China, Indonesia, India, Egypt, US, Brazil and Pakistan.
In four countries, more than a fifth of all children are overweight — Ukraine, Albania, Libya and Montenegro. Of the 38.3 million children globally overweight, 5.4 million are in South Asia and 4.8 million are in East Asia.
Prevalence of overweight children is the highest in upper-middle income countries and the lowest in low-income countries.
As with obesity, among adults, women are more overweight than men– 39.2 per cent and 38.5 per cent respectively in 2016. On the other hand, diabetes is more common among men than women–9.0 per cent and 7.9 per cent respectively in 2014.
Of the 141 countries analysed, 88 per cent (124 countries) experience more than one form of malnutrition, the report said.
The report referred to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which used district-level aggregate data from the 2015 2016 National and Family Health Survey, covering 601,509 households in 604 districts in India, to understand the causes of the spatial variation.
Researchers used mapping and descriptive analyses to understand spatial differences in distribution of stunting. The mapping showed that stunting varies greatly from district to district (12.4 to 65.1 per cent), with 239 of 604 districts having 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.
“India’s national nutrition strategy which is focused on addressing district-specific factors draws on analyses such as these along with district specific nutrition profiles to enable diagnostic work and policy action to reduce inequalities and childhood stunting,” the report said.
Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the report and director of the Centre for Food Policy said, “The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause. The health consequences of being overweight and obese contribute to an estimated four million deaths globally.”