A shame, says PM, as report finds 42% of surveyed under-5 kids underweight


A report on hunger and malnutrition in 112 districts across nine states of the country has revealed that 42.3 per cent children under the age of five years are underweight, 58.8 per cent are stunted and 11.4 per cent are "wasted".

Releasing the report prepared by Hyderabad-based Naandi Foundation here today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed malnutrition a "national shame".

The HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) report covered 106 worst-performing districts as per the UNICEF child development index and six best-performing districts across three states.

An interesting finding of the report was that while girls started with a nutritional advantage over boys, they lost out as they grew older, to the point that by the age of four, they had fallen behind.

Of all the children found to be stunted, half were severely so. Half of all children were underweight or stunted by the age of 24 months. Children from low-income families or SC/ST/Muslim households were found to be the worst off, though 92 per cent mothers were aware of the concept of malnutrition.

The last such data released in 2004 — from a district level health survey — had measured malnutrition only in terms of weight, and had concluded that 53 per cent children in these districts were underweight.

Among the worst districts as per the new data are Malkangiri in Orissa with 57.75 per cent and Aurangabad in Bihar with 49.47 per cent children underweight. Shrawasti in Uttar Pradesh with 72.31 per cent, Rae Bareli with 70.40 per cent, Koraput in Orissa with 68.86 per cent and Dumka in Jharkhand with 63.65 per cent have the highest number of stunted children.

Describing 42 per cent as an "unacceptably high" proportion for children who remain underweight despite advances made in the last seven years, the Prime Minister said: "Though the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) continues to be our most important tool to fight malnutrition, we can no longer rely solely on it. We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail. Policy makers and programme implementers need to clearly understand many linkages — between education and health, between sanitation and hygiene, between drinking water and nutrition. These sectors can no longer work in isolation of each other."

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