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Feeding India | December 1, 2022 | 3 min(s) read
Understanding the malnutrition crisis in India

Malnutrition is a serious condition which occurs when your body gets either too little (Undernourishment), or too many (Over nourishment) of the essential nutrients required for a human being to function. In other words, it’s the absence of proper nutrition.

Malnutrition has adverse effects on the body’s growth or form, and leads to stunting, wasting and undernourishment and causes children to be underweight or obese.

As the name suggests, being underweight refers to having a body weight too low to be considered healthy. Maintaining the right amount of weight is essential, as being underweight leads to a weakened immune system and causes you to feel tired and lethargic all the time. In extreme cases, simple actions such as standing up also causes more strain than the weakened body can handle.

Obesity is complementary to being underweight as it is a condition in which an abnormal amount of fat accumulates in the body to the point where it has detrimental effects on the health of the individual. Underweight and Obesity are both manifestations of chronic malnourishment.

Stunting is a medical condition in which a child has impaired growth and development. As a result, their bodies are unable to attain a decent height leaving them disproportionate to their age and weight.

Inversely, wasting pertains to having a low body weight with respect to the child’s height. This condition has a high morbidity and mortality rate. Stunting is a result of acute malnutrition, whereas wasting mainly occurs due to improper nourishment over a longer period of time.

Who is affected by it?

As of 2021, approximately 2.3 billion adults in the world are malnourished in some way. That’s around 30% of the world’s population. Safe to say, it’s one of the biggest global issues humanity is facing. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) 2 : Zero Hunger aims to eradicate hunger from the world by 2030 and eliminate malnutrition. As of right now, they’re on track to largely miss their target by the United Nation’s own estimation. As per the UN’s progress reports, there are around 150 million stunted children in the world, 41 million obese children (under the age of 5), 1 in 3 people lack regular access to adequate food, and about 1 in 10 people suffer from hunger related problems.

India is the largest contributor of undernourished people in the world (Worldometer), with around 194.4 Million people, or 14.37% of its population not receiving enough nutrition.

India has one of the worst rates of child malnutrition in the world, with one third of malnourished children globally being Indian. As per the Government of India’s National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS 5), ‘Thirty-six percent of children under age five years are stunted; 19 percent are wasted; 32 percent are underweight; and 3 percent are overweight. Children born to mothers with no schooling and children in the lowest wealth quintile are most likely to be undernourished’.

Anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin; a condition that can make you feel tired and weak as you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues, affects a staggering 67% of children below the age of 5 years, higher than the 59% in the NFHS 4 survey. Anemia is much more prevalent in women, as a hefty 57% of Indian Women suffer from it, compared to the relatively low 25% of Men in India (Under 50 years). According to the same report, 19% of Women and 16% of Men under 50 are undernourished, while 24% of Women and 23% of Men are victims of obesity. As such, approximately 40% of the humongous population of 1.38 Billion is malnourished.

Geographically, Maharashtra followed by Bihar and Gujarat have the worst levels of malnourishment in children in the country. Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Jharkhand have very high rates of undernutrition. Incidentally, these regions also have the highest population of children, and the highest poverty rates. Even states with the lowest percentage of undernutrition, such as Mizoram, Sikkim and Manipur have much higher malnutrition rates than developed nations.

In India, lots of socio-economic factors play a major hand in the malnourishment levels. In general, those who are poor are at risk for under-nutrition, while those who have high socio-economic status are relatively more likely to be over-nourished. Undernutrition is common in rural areas, mainly due to the low social and economic status of the inhabitants. Contrarily, in urban areas, overweight status and obesity are over three times as high as compared to rural areas.

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Aditya Singh. He is a Poshan champion (young Feeding India volunteer) of India. He is currently a junior in the IB diploma programme at Jayshree Periwal International school, Jaipur.

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