Every second child under five faces malnutrition

While every fifth child under the age five is vitamin A deficient, one in every third baby has a vitamin B12 deficiency and two out of every five children are anaemic, TEHELKA BUREAU finds out

Malnutrition caused 69 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India, according to a UNICEF report. The report titled ‘The State of the World’s Children 2019’ also points out that every second child in that age group is affected by some form of malnutrition.

This includes stunting (35 per cent), wasting (17 per cent) and overweight (2 per cent). Only 42 per cent of children (in the age group of 6 to 23 months) are fed at an adequate frequency and 21 per cent get an adequately diverse diet. Timely complementary feeding is initiated for only 53 per cent of infants aged 6-8 months.

In one of its kind report released after 20 year, the UNICEF said that every second woman in India is anaemic. It also said that anaemia is the most prevalent in children under the age of five years. Its prevalence among adolescent girls is twice as that of adolescent boys.

Indian children are being diagnosed with adult diseases such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease and pre-diabetic. The data states that children under the age of five years are affected by micro-nutrient deficiencies. While every fifth child under the age five is vitamin A
deficient, one in every third baby has a vitamin B12 deficiency and two out of every five children are anaemic.

The report said POSHAN Abhiyaan or the National Nutrition Mission is playing a major role in improving nutrition indicators across India. The Anaemia Mukt Bharat programme to fight anaemic prevalence has been recognised as one of the best programmes implemented by governments across the world to address malnutrition.

The 6X6X6 strategy (six target beneficiary groups, six interventions and six institutional mechanisms) of the programme has been highlighted for using anaemia testing and treatment as the entry point to provide information on healthy diets.

Overweight and obesity increasingly begin in childhood with a growing threat of non-communicable diseases like diabetes (10 per cent) in school-aged children and adolescents. Urban India is moving into an unhealthy food snacking environment, which is influencing children’s food choices and this is spreading to rural areas. Food consumption patterns in India reveal that child diets are largely starved of proteins and micro-nutrients and are influenced by household (adult) food choices.

Over the decades, despite growing incomes, protein-based calories remain low and unchanged, and the calorific share of fruits and vegetables has declined. The report said globally 77 per cent of processed food sales are controlled by just 100 large firms. In cities, many poor children live in “food deserts” or in “food swamps”.

Regarding the situation globally, the UNICEF’s report said at least one in three children under five years of age — or 200 million — is either undernourished or overweight. The report states that almost two in three children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains. This puts them at a risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death, it said.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘under-nutrition’ — which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer).

How does malnutrition child looks like?

When you picture child malnutrition, what do you see? Twenty years ago, the image was arresting: a dangerously underweight child who wasn’t getting enough to eat. Today, there are still millions of malnourished children, but the picture is changing. While the number of stunted children is falling in every continent except Africa, overweight and obesity are growing in every continent, including Africa, and at a much faster rate. Globally, at least half
of all children under five suffer from hidden hunger: a lack of essential nutrients that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

How many children are malnourished in the world?

One in three children is not growing well because of malnutrition. In many countries, and even within households, these three forms of malnutrition – undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight – co-exist. This means that a single country may face the challenge of addressing high rates of stunting, micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity. Or a family may have an overweight mother and a stunted child. These trends reflect what is known as the triple burden of malnutrition, a burden that threatens the survival, growth and development of children, economies and societies. This burden is only expected to grow.

Has any progress been made in decreasing obesity among children?

Strikingly, not a single country has made progress in decreasing levels of overweight and obesity in the past 20 years. We are left facing the question: why are so many children eating too little of what they need, while an increasing number of children are eating too much of what they don’t need?