Child nutrition needs attention

Context: Worsening of child nutrition calls for immediate and decisive course correction.

More on news:

  • The first phase of NFHS-5, held during 2019-2020, covered 17 states and five Union territories.

What are the findings of the report?

  • Revelation from the survey: southern states have joined the league of poor performing states. Stunting has risen in Kerala and Telangana, followed by just a minor decline in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
    • Also worth mentioning is the persistence of a huge rural-urban disparity in stunting in many states, notably in Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Sikkim.
  • A comparison with the results of CNNS: The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey held in 2016-18, reveals that 10 out of these 11 states had either a negative or subpar performance in stunting.
    • The worsening of child stunting in these states, thus, appears to be a rather sustained phenomenon.
  • Similar pattern appears in the underweight category: Eleven states registered an increase in this metric. Stunting has gone up in 10 out of 11 states where the number of underweight children surged.
    • At least one aspect of child undernutrition has gone up in 14 out of 17 states. Additionally, both stunting and underweight increased in eight states, whereas stunting and wasting increased in six states.

What are the shortcomings of the report?

  • Conflicting data: A definitive diagnosis demands a detailed, careful scrutiny of data, as a cursory look at some of the associated factors reveals a conflicting picture.
    • For instance, access to sanitation and safe drinking water has improved significantly in states where stunting has increased.
  • No clarity on factors: NFHS-5 was carried out in these states at a time when India’s economy was decelerating steadily, followed by reports of rising joblessness and food insecurity.
    • The survey, thus won’t be able to clearly inform how and to what extent these factors have contributed to the worsening of child undernutrition.

Way forward

  • This calls for immediate and decisive course correction, including a critical assessment of the reach and efficacy of the existing nutrition centric programmes.
  • A complacent approach that assumes that all necessary measures, including the Poshan Abhiyan, are in place and the reversal in progress is only momentary will be a sure way to inflict a debilitating, irreversible impact on children’s nutrition and their well-being.
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