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Malnutrition in India

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Title: Malnutrition in India  
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Subject: Below Poverty Line (India), Public distribution system, Poverty in India, Health in India, India
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Malnutrition in India

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth.[1]

The 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report ranked India 15th, amongst leading countries with hunger situation. It also places India amongst the three countries where the GHI between 1996 and 2011 went up from 22.9 to 23.7, while 78 out of the 81 developing countries studied, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Myanmar, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi, succeeded in improving hunger condition.[2]


India is one of the fastest growing countries in terms of population and economics, sitting at a population of 1.2 billion and growing at 10–14% annually (from 2001–2007).[3] India's Gross Domestic Product growth was 9.0% from 2007 to 2008; since Independence in 1947, its economic status has been classified as a low-income country with majority of the population at or below the poverty line.[4]

Though most of the population is still living below the National Poverty Line, its economic growth indicates new opportunities and a movement towards increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases which is observed in at high rates in developed countries such as United States, Canada and Australia. The combination of people living in poverty and the recent economic growth of India has led to the co-emergence of two types of malnutrition: undernutrition and overnutrition.[5]

Malnutrition refers to the situation where there is an unbalanced diet in which some nutrients are in excess, lacking or wrong proportion.[6] Simply put, we can categorise it to be under-nutrition and over-nutrition. Despite India's 50% increase in GDP since 1991,[7] more than one third of the world's malnourished children live in India. Among these, half of them under 3 are underweight and a third of wealthiest children are over-nutriented.[8]

One of the major causes for malnutrition in India is gender inequality. Due to the low social status of Indian women, their diet often lacks in both quality and quantity. Women who suffer malnutrition are less likely to have healthy babies. In India, mothers generally lack proper knowledge in feeding children. Consequently, new born infants are unable to get adequate amount of nutrition from their mothers.

Deficiencies in nutrition inflict long-term damage to both individuals and society. Compared with their better-fed peers, nutrition-deficient individuals are more likely to have infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, which lead to a higher mortality rate. In addition, nutrition-deficient individuals are less productive at work. Low productivity not only gives them low pay that traps them in a vicious circle of under-nutrition,[9] but also brings inefficiency to the society, especially in India where labour is a major input factor for economic production.[10] On the other hand, over-nutrition also has severe consequences. In India national obesity rates in 2010 were 14% for women and 18% for men with some urban areas having rates as high as 40%.[11] Obesity causes several non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases.[9]

Subodh Varma, writing in The Times of India, states that on the Global Hunger Index India is on place 67 among the 80 nations having the worst hunger situation which is worse than nations such as North Korea or Sudan. 25% of all hungry people worldwide live in India. Since 1990 there has been some improvements for children but the proportion of hungry in the population has increased. In India 44% of children under the age of 5 are underweight. 72% of infants and 52% of married women have anaemia. Research has conclusively shown that malnutrition during pregnancy causes the child to have increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities.[12]

Nutritional trends of various demographic groups

Many factors, including region, religion, and caste affect the nutritional status of Indians. Living in rural areas also contribute to nutritional status.[13]

Socio-economic status

In general, those who are poor are at risk for under-nutrition,[14] while those who have high socio-economic status are relatively more likely to be over-nourished. Anaemia is negatively correlated with wealth.[13]

When it comes to child malnutrition, children in low-income families are more malnourished than those in high-income families. Some cultural beliefs that may lead to malnutrition is religion. Among these is the influence of religions, especially in India are restricted from consuming meat. Also, other Indians are strictly vegan, which means, they do not consume any sort of animal product, including dairy and eggs. This is a serious problem when inadequate protein is consumed because 56% of poor Indian household consume cereal to consume protein. But unfortunately, the type of protein that cereal contains does not parallel to the proteins that animal product contain (Gulati, 2012). [15] Children of Muslim households and those belonging to scheduled castes or tribes also face higher rates of malnourishment. This phenomenon is most prevalent in the rural areas of India where more malnutrition exists on an absolute level. Whether children are of the appropriate weight and height is highly dependent on the socio-economic status of the population.[16] Children of families with lower socio-economic standing are faced with sub-optimal growth. While children in similar communities have shown to share similar levels of nutrition, child nutrition is also differential from family to family depending on the mother's characteristic, household ethnicity and place of residence. It is expected that with improvements in socio-economic welfare, child nutrition will also improve.[17]


Under-nutrition is more prevalent in rural areas, again mainly due to low socio-economic status. Anaemia for both men and women is only slightly higher in rural areas than in urban areas. For example, in 2005, 40% of women in rural areas, and 36% of women in urban areas were found to have mild anaemia.[13]

In urban areas, overweight status and obesity are over three times as high as rural areas.[13]

In terms of geographical regions, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar have very high rates of under-nutrition. States with lowest percentage of under-nutrition include Mizoram, Sikkim, Manipur, Kerala, Punjab, and Goa, although the rate is still considerably higher than that of developed nations. Further, anaemia is found in over 70% of individuals in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, and Jharkhand. Less than 50% of individuals in Goa, Manipur, Mizoram, and Kerala have anaemia.[18]

Punjab, Kerala, and Delhi also face the highest rate of overweight and obese individuals.[13]


Studies show that individuals belonging to Hindu, Jain or Muslim backgrounds in India tend to be more malnourished than those from Sikh or Christian backgrounds.[19]


The Government of India has launched several programs to converge the growing rate of under nutrition children. They include ICDS, NCF, National Health Mission.

Midday meal scheme in Indian schools

The Akshaya Patra Foundation runs the world's largest NGO-run midday meal programme serving freshly cooked meals to over 1.3 million school children in government and government-aided schools in India. This programme is conducted with part subsidies from the Government and partly with donations from individuals and corporations. The meals served by Akshaya Patra complies with the nutritional norms given by the government of India and aims to eradicate malnutrition among children in India.The midday meal programme was started on 15th August 1995.

Integrated child development scheme

The Government of India has started a program called Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in the year 1975. ICDS has been instrumental in improving the health of mothers and children under age 6 by providing health and nutrition education, health services, supplementary food, and pre-school education.The ICDS national development program is one of the largest in the world. It reaches more than 34 million children aged 0–6 years and 7 million pregnant and lactating mothers. Other programs impacting on under-nutrition include the National Midday Meal Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission, and the Public Distribution System (PDS). The challenge for all these programs and schemes is how to increase efficiency, impact and coverage.

National Children's Fund

The National Children's Fund was created during the International Year of the Child in 1979 under the Charitable Endowment Fund Act, 1890. This Fund Provides support to the voluntary organisations that help the welfare of kids.

National Plan of Action for Children

India is a signatory to the 27 survival and development goals laid down by the World Summit on children 1990. In order to implement these goals, the Department of Women & Child Development has formulated a National Plan of Action on Children. Each concerned Central Ministries/Departments, State Governments/U.Ts. and Voluntary Organisations dealing with women and children have been asked to take up appropriate measures to implement the Action Plan. These goals have been integrated into National Development Plans. A Monitoring Committee under the Chairpersonship of Secretary (Women & Child Development) reviews the achievement of goals set in the National Plan of Action. All concerned Central Ministries/Departments are represented on the Committee.

15 State Govts. have prepared State Plan of Action on the lines of National Plan of Action specifying targets for 1995 as well as for 2000 and spelling out strategies for holistic child development.

United Nations Children's Fund

Department of Women and Child Development is the nodal department for UNICEF. India is associated with UNICEF since 1949 and is now in the fifth decade of cooperation for assisting most disadvantaged children and their mothers. Traditionally, UNICEF has been supporting India in a number of sectors like child development, women's development, urban basic services, support for community based convergent services, health, education, nutrition, water & sanitation, childhood disability, children in especially difficult circumstances, information and communication, planning and programme support. India is presently a member on the UNICEF Executive Board till 31 December 1997. The board has 3 regular sessions and one annual session in a year. Strategies and other important matters relating to UNICEF are discussed in those meetings. A meeting of Government of India and UNICEF officials was concurred on 12 November 1997 to finalise the strategy and areas for programme of cooperation for the next Master Plan of operations 1999–2002 which is to synchronise with the Ninth Plan of Government of India.[20]

National Health Mission

National Rural Health Mission

The National Rural Health Mission of India mission was created for the years 2005–2012, and its goal is to "improve the availability of and access to quality health care by people, especially for those residing in rural areas, the poor, women, and children."

The subset of goals under this mission are:

  • Reduce infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality ratio (MMR)
  • Provide universal access to public health services
  • Prevent and control both communicable and non-communicable diseases, including locally endemic diseases
  • Provide access to integrated comprehensive primary healthcare
  • Create population stabilisation, as well as gender and demographic balance
  • Revitalize local health traditions and mainstream AYUSH
  • Finally, to promote healthy life styles

The mission has set up strategies and action plan to meet all of its goals.[21]


Despite of economic growth in India, India’s hunger is still worse than North Korea or Sudan. And a child raised in India is more likely to be malnourished than Somalia. Various studies suggest that the biggest reason for India’s malnutrition is poor sanitation. Because of poor sanitation situation, more children in India than North Korea, Sudan and Somalia are exposed to bacteria. The bacteria sickens them, and make it hard for children to consume nutrients, which results in malnutrition. 620 million people in India don’t have a toilet in their house and they use public toilet or just outside. In addition, the air quality in India is among the worst in the world. As India developed, the more wastes India produce. And it leads to more poor sanitation. Unicef is recognizing the poor sanitation as one of the reasons for malnutrition. In 2012, Unicef made a report that malnutrition is based entirely on lack of the food. But now, Unicef and many charitable organizations are saying that poor sanitation is one of the biggest reasons of malnutrition. Currently, the India government is working to solve malnutrition problem by making more foods. But a lot of authorities in India are saying they should change their plan for malnutrition based on sanitation problem.

See also


Further reading

  • Measham, Anthony R.; Meera Chatterjee (1999). Wasting away: the crisis of malnutrition in India. World Bank Publications.  


  1. ^ "World Bank Report". Source: The World Bank (2009). Retrieved 2009-03-13. World Bank Report on Malnutrition in India 
  2. ^ "2011 Global Hunger Index Report".  
  3. ^ "World Bank Report". Source: The World Bank 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-25. India Country Overview 2009 
  4. ^ "World Bank Report". Source: The World Bank 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-25. India Country Overview 2009 
  5. ^ "Journal of the American Medical Association". Source: JAMA 2004. Retrieved 2009-11-26. The global burden of chronic diseases 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "The Indian exception". The Economist. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "Putting the smallest first". The Economist. 23 September 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "Turning the tide of malnutrition". World Health Organization. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  10. ^ "A call for reform and action". The World Bank. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  11. ^ "India in grip of obesity epidemic". The Times of India. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  12. ^ Superpower? 230 million Indians go hungry daily, Subodh Varma, 15 Jan 2012, The Times of India,
  13. ^ a b c d e "NFHS-3 Nutritional Status of Adults". Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  14. ^ Kanjilal, B; et al (2010). "Nutritional Status of Children in India: Household Socio-Economic Condition as the Contextual Determinant". Int J for Equity in Health 9: 19.  
  15. ^ Gulati, A., Ganesh-Kumar, A., Shreedhar, G., & Nandakumar, T. (2012). Agriculture and malnutrition in India. Food And Nutrition Bulletin, 33(1), 74-86
  16. ^ "HUNGaMA Survey Report". Naandi foundation. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  17. ^ Kanjilal, Barun; Mazumdar, Mukherjee, Rahman (January 2010). "Nutritional status of children in India: household socio-economic condition as the contextual determinant". International Journal for Equity in Health 9: 19–31.  
  18. ^ "NFHS-3 Nutritional Status of Children". Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  19. ^ "Nutrition and Anaemia". Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  20. ^ "Child Development Website". Source: Child Development programmes site (2009). Retrieved 2009-03-14. Programs to address malnutrition in India 
  21. ^ "National Rural Health Mission". Source: National Rural Health Mission (2005–2012). Retrieved 2009-11-26. 

External links

  • India: Malnutrition Report World Bank
  • Child Malnutrition In India Report
  • Addressing the Food Insecure and malnutirition in the Delhi/NCR Region
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