By Prarthana Mitra
The 2018 Global Nutrition Report published on Thursday revealed that 46 million children in India suffer from malnutrition, forming one-third of the world’s stunted children.
Taking 140 countries into account, the study made a grim note of the global burden of malnutrition, which is unacceptably high and affects every country in the world. 150.8 million children of the world are stunted while 50.5 million are “wasted”, the report said.
At the same time, the independent report made a call for critical change, and listed avenues to end the crisis, which leads to low birth rates and delayed development, generation after generation. Ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030 is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but the report noted that the current rate of decrease is not fast enough to meet the 9 internationally agreed targets of malnutrition.
The Global Nutrition Report was conceived following the first Nutrition for Growth Initiative Summit (N4G) in 2013 as a mechanism for tracking the commitments made by 100 stakeholders spanning governments, aid donors, civil society, the UN and businesses. Nutrition for Growth is led by a partnership between the United Kingdom, Brazil and Japan governments and championed by leading philanthropic foundations and civil society organizations
In India, particularly, the burden is heavier than any other nation. Not only is it unprepared to meet any of the targets, the country accounted for a third of the world’s malnutritioned children, and 25.5 million who are “wasted” or disproportionately underweight (to their height).
India has always had the scourge of an acute wage gap between lower and higher economic classes, a stratification that impedes equal distribution of wealth (and food) despite exponential economic expansion over the last decade.
Besides flagging the imbalance in children’s dietary needs and foods which are accessible(/affordable), the report attributed the country’s malnutrition crisis to other determinants such as gender inequality, young motherhood, open defecation, illiteracy and economic inequality.
According to Corinna Hawkes of the Centre for Food Policy, who co-chaired the report, the staggering numbers beg the question, “Why are things not better when we know so much more than before?”
In light of the persistent crisis, the Indian government had repeatedly launched several nutrition missions across rural and semi-urban areas, to ensure infants are breastfed and provided nutritious diets, have access to safe drinking water and safe hygienic sanitation.
But these measures have largely failed, owing to gross oversight of issues that are systemically and socially entrenched in the Indian society such as lack of awareness, corruption, and social and economic inequality. The Ministry of Women and Child Development now plans to tackle malnutrition with the help of technology.
A vulnerable future
High rates of malnutrition among children deal a massive blow to the country’s public, social and economic health , adversely affecting upcoming generations in the long run.
Stunted and wasted growth stemming from the lack of two square meals per day lead to mortality, morbidity, cognitive disorders, various metabolic and immunity-related diseases, life threatening infections, and retard the physical and mental development of the child.
The central think thank NITI Aayog commented on the findings, saying that malnutrition is directly linked to productivity. “The odds against these children making it to secondary school, let alone managing an intellectually or physically challenging job, is [are] slim,” Dr Basanta Kumar Kar of the health committee told Al Jazeera.
Overall, Asia remains one of the hardest-hit areas but has managed to register the largest reduction in stunting between 2000 (38%) and 2017 (23%). The report hopes to replace the disturbing apathy for food security, with an immediate prioritisation of ensuring access to the basic means of survival for every child.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.