Put the kibosh on child malnutrition fast
Health is a crucial indicator of a country’s development, and widespread malnutrition among Indian children is a potent factor denting claims of India’s overall progress. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022, based on cases of stunting (retarded growth), wasting (too thin for the height and failure to gain weight), and deaths among Indian children, placed the country at a poor 107th rank among 121 countries. As per the GHI, India’s child-wasting rate is a shocking 19.3%, the highest in the world. Wasting is caused by inadequate calorie intake, malabsorption of nutrients, altered metabolic rate and hormone deficiency. As per the Centre’s submission before the Supreme Court last September, 69% of India’s under-five child mortality cases in 2022 were due to malnutrition.
Last month, the Union finance ministry claimed that with India’s GDP crossing the $3.75-trillion mark, the country is now the fifth-largest economy in the world. The disturbing dichotomy crops up while trying to digest that the fifth-largest economy occupies the 107th rank in GHI. This shows how India has failed to adequately deal with malnutrition among children, indicating the next generation will have poor health.
The Central and state governments face a challenging task. It is not just hunger they have to tackle, but they also need to ensure every child gets proper nutrition—right from when the child is conceived, which means covering every expectant mother as well. Against this backdrop, former World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan’s call to emphasise on nutrition literacy in Indian schools gains significance. She has stressed the need for a farming system for nutrition (FSN) intervention. This system integrates crop, livestock and allied agricultural practices and nutrition literacy as a package, providing a holistic approach to tackle malnutrition among Indian children on a war footing. It needs to be highlighted—and understood—that malnutrition from an acute deficiency of vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates among children would ultimately impact not just the health of the next generation of Indians but also the economy. Action is needed now to root out malnutrition among children. Failing on this front would be nothing but a self-inflicted disaster.