From Kerala to Gujarat, malnutrition takes reverse course in key states, finds government survey

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National Family and Health survey, NFHS 2019-20, NFHS first phase outcome, malnutrition figures in Indian states, child stunting in Indian states, child mortality in Indian states, Global Hunger Index, Health and Family Affairs MinistrySeveral big states like Gujarat, Kerala, Telangana, Maharashtra, Assam, Bengal have seen an increase in the proportion of underweight children. (IE Image)Several Indian states are still reeling under worsening levels of child malnutrition even with access to clean drinking water, fuel and improved sanitation pointed out a study conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-20. The first phase survey reports released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare marks a shift in the figures since the last NFHS survey conducted in 2015-16.

In the first phase, the survey was conducted in 17 states including West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and five Union Territories including Jammu and Kashmir. The data pertains to the health status of these states before the Covid pandemic.

Several states have witnessed only meagre improvement among children belonging to under 5 years age group in the four child malnutrition parameters such as child wasting, child stunting, the share of children who are underweight and child mortality rate. The Global Hunger Index also uses these four parameters to collect data about the status of a state.

Child wasting metrics reveals the most alarming data. Instead of reducing it states like Kerala, Telangana, Bihar, Assam and the new UT, J&K have observed an increase. Child wasting refers to undernutrition and a child having low weight compared to their height. India has always witnessed a high level of child wasting.  Maharashtra and West Bengal, however, saw no change in this malnutrition measure.

Again, several big states like Gujarat, Kerala, Telangana, Maharashtra, Assam, Bengal have seen an increase in the proportion of underweight children.

The proportion of child stunting figures are the most alarming. Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Kerala, all witnessed an increased level of stunting. Child stunting reflected children having low height and chronic undernutrition. Stunting has prolonged adverse effect on child health affecting his physical and cognitive development.

Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute called the child stunting data ‘hugely troubling’ as an increase is unlikely in most of the other developing countries in the world. She further said as stable democracies improve the factors that affect child growth, child stunting levels tend not to increase.

Under 5 mortality rate and infant mortality rate that takes into account the number of deaths per 1000 live births is mostly stagnant. However, there was a decrease in mortality in NHFS survey reports conducted in 2005-06 and 2015-16, pointed out Aashish Gupta, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania. In Maharashtra, the under -5 mortality rate is basically the same as the last two survey reports and in Bihar, it improves by 3% in five years. Poor nutrition is the reason for 60 per cent of the child mortality in most of the states, highlighted Menon.

The NFHS -5 (2019-20) covers the first five years of Narendra Modi-led BJP government. To know about the factors that contributed to the reversals and worsening of malnutrition needs more microscopic analysis of the data, Menon said.  He further flagged decline in income levels as one of the factors.

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