NEW DELHI: The nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the COVID-19 spread in India may have led to over 4.1 lakh additional cases of underweight children and about 3.93 lakh cases of wasting in the country's poorest households, a new study has estimated.
The paper titled Living on the edge? The sensitivity of child undernutrition prevalence to bodyweight shocks in the context of the 2020 national lockdown strategy in India has said that under a scenario of body weight shock (reduction in weight) of 0.5 %, the prevalence of those turning underweight and wasting will increase by 1.42 and 1.36 percentage points, respectively.
These estimates get translated into 410,413 and 392,886 additional cases of children turning underweight and wasting away respectively.
The researchers are associated with The Institute Of Health Management Research, Jaipur, Institute Of Economic Growth, Delhi and Harvard Centre For Population And Development Studies in the US.
The estimation assumes significance as the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16, had revealed that every second child in India suffers from at least one form of nutritional failure.
Some recent studies by government agencies had also found that more than 78 percent of children under 5 in India do not have adequate daily calorie intake as per recommended dietary allowances suggested by Indian Council for Medical Research expert committee.
It was also estimated that about 90 percent of children aged 6–23 months do not receive a minimum acceptable diet and only 22 percent of children were reported to have minimum dietary diversity.
For the latest study, researchers used cross-sectional information from the most recent National Family Health Survey to estimate possible increase in the prevalence of children being underweight and wasting away as a result of reduction in their body weight.
And the shocks were estimated to range from a minimum of 0.5% to a maximum 5% reduction in the bodyweight for every child from the poorest 20 % household.
The Union government beginning March 25 had imposed a nationwide lockdown that lasted 68 days till May 31 and consisted of four different versions of lockdown in varying degrees of restrictions.
"Amidst elevated risks to lives and livelihood, such nationwide lockdown in India has also exposed the families from the poorest strata - a population that even in normal times barely survives on daily wages - to an immediate threat of hunger and food deprivation," the study said.
Among poor children, the ability to withstand such unexpected restriction will be determined by the current nutritional status and vulnerability to an imminent shock of reduced dietary intake and diversity, it added.
The researchers calculated that reduction in the respective body weight of children below 5 by only 0.5 percent will reduce the average weight by 50 g.
Similarly, weight-loss by 2.5% and 5% will result in reduction in average weight by 240 g and 490 g, respectively. Among children below one year of age, a reduction by 0.5% and 5% of their respective body weight will reduce the average weight by 30 g and 300 g, respectively.
Among children between 48–59 months, weight-loss by 0.5% and 5% in respective bodyweight will result in a decline in average weight by 70 and 660 g respectively.