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Is Malnutrition a Crisis in India? 5 Questions We Have for the Government

Is there a malnutrition crisis in India? Are we looking at an epidemic of hunger? Here's what national data says.

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Camera :Athar Rather
Video Editor :Abhishek Sharma

In February this year, a study, published in JAMA Network Open, said that India ranks third on the global index of ‘zero-food children’ at a stark 19.3 percent, behind only two African nations.

In absolute terms, it said, India has the most number of ‘zero-food children’ at 6.7 million.

‘Zero-food children’ are children between the ages of 6-23 months ‘who did not consume animal milk, formula, solid, or semisolid food within 24 hours (of conducting the study)’. 

As stark as the numbers were, there was a limitation to the study – it did not take into account breast milk.

Just a few days after media outlets reported on it, the Ministry of Women & Child Development refuted the study calling it ‘malicious’ and ‘an attempt to sensationalise fake news’.

So which one of these reports should you believe? Is there a malnutrition crisis in India? Are we looking at an epidemic of hunger?

FIT breaks it all down in simple terms for you.

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What the Data Shows: India’s Malnutrition Crisis

Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Women & Child Development, had in February this year, told the Rajya Sabha that in December 2023, out of 89.1 million children under the age of six years, 36 percent were stunted and 17 percent were underweight.

According to data from the National Family Health Survey-5:

  • Only 5.9 percent of breastfeeding children in the age group of 6-23 months receive an adequate diet in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat – which are the worst-faring states in this parameter.

  • In the same age group, when it comes to non-breastfeeding children, Chhattisgarh is the worst-performing state – with only 2.5 percent of children receiving an adequate diet.

  • Uttar Pradesh has the worst infant and child mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in the country too – at 50.4 percent. It is closely followed by Bihar at 46.8 percent, and Chhattisgarh at 44.3 percent.

This, even as all the four states have the Take Home Ration scheme in place under the Integrated Child Development Services, along with the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandan Yojana, which is supposed to help provide nutrition to all pregnant and lactating women.

A similar state level scheme is also active in Gujarat – the Mukhyamantri Matrushakti Yojana.

And so…

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We Have Some Questions for the Powers That Be, As the Country Goes to Elections

  • In 2024, why is the infant mortality rate in the country’s most populous state (Uttar Pradesh) over 50 percent, as NFHS-5 shows?

That’s not the only problem. According to February 2024 data from the POSHAN Tracker for children between the ages of 0-6 years, in UP, the worst performing district in the state is Banda where 31 percent children are underweight, and 58 percent are stunted.

40 percent children in Bhagalpur are underweight and 55 percent are stunted. In Sukma, 31 percent children are underweight and 55 percent are stunted.

  • Why are districts like Bhagalpur in Bihar and Sukma in Chhattisgarh lacking in child nutrition, when these are bastions of the regional parties that only nominate heavyweights from these places in elections?

Gujarat is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s home ground with a ‘double-engine sarkar’ in place. 

  • Why then are 40 percent children in Chhota Udepur and Narmada underweight, and 51 percent children in both the districts stunted?

  • Where are schemes like midday meals or even Take Home Ration lacking? 

  • What more are governments doing apart from this to counter hunger in children?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Video   Elections   Hunger 

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