Poverty to blame for child undernutrition in India

New York, Dec 18 (IANS) Analysing and estimating the relative importance of known risk factors for child undernutrition, a team of researchers, including one of Indian-origin, has identified five top risk factors which are essentially markers of poor socioeconomic conditions.

Short maternal stature, a mother with no education, extreme poverty, poor dietary diversity, and maternal underweight are the five top risk factors responsible for more than two-thirds of the child undernutrition problem in India, the study said.

In India, nearly 40 percent of all children are stunted or of extremely low height for their age, and nearly 30 percent are underweight.

Examining an array of 15 well-known risk factors for chronic undernutrition among children in India, the study found that the five top risk factors were essentially markers of poor socioeconomic conditions as well as poor and insecure nutritional environments in children’s households.

“There is an immediate need to not waste time and resources on short-term and ‘doable’ interventions,” said senior author of the study S V Subramanian, professor of population health and geography at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health.

“While asking people to change behaviours and offering piecemeal solutions might provide some short-term relief, such strategies cannot be substituted for the urgent need to improve food and livelihood security,” Subramanian stressed.

To identify the top five risk factors of child undernutrition, the researchers used data on nearly 29,000 children aged six-59 months from the third India National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2005-06 (the latest data that is publicly available).

Meanwhile, factors such as Vitamin A, breastfeeding, use of iodized salt, improved water and sanitation, and even immunisation – all currently high priority interventions in the global discourse on addressing undernutrition – accounted for less than 15 percent of the cases of undernutrition, the study said.

The findings appeared online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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