Food insecurity

India’s children are eating well enough to grow taller, but not to put on necessary weight

The quality and quantity of food that many of India’s children get is not good enough.

The recently released National Health Family Survey throws up an interesting conundrum on childhood nutrition. More children below the age of five have reached an acceptable height for their age as per World Health Organisation standards. But children’s weights have not shown a similar improvement for the past decade.

National Family Health Survey data is based on survey conducted between 2015 and 2016. The large-scale survey, the last of which was in 2005-’06, is conducted on a representative sample of households.

Forty eight per cent of children in the 2005-’06 survey were found stunted, which means that their height was lower than what it should be at the age they are at. The latest data shows that stunting has reduced to 38.4% of children surveyed, though even this is unacceptably high. Stunted growth reflects poor intake of food, often starvation, over a long period of time.

Wasting among children has increased since the last survey 10 years ago. Wasting is low weight for height and is associated with acute starvation.

In 2005-’06, almost 20% of children surveyed were wasted, while more than 6% were severely wasted. In 2015-16, the proportion of wasted children has increased to 21% and the severely wasted to 7.5%. Wasting is a strong predictor of mortality below five years, according to the WHO.

Wasted- low weight to height by 2 standard deviations below WHO child growth standards; Severely wasted - low weight to height by 3 standard deviations below WHO child growth standards; Stunted - low height to age; Underweight - low weight to age
Wasted- low weight to height by 2 standard deviations below WHO child growth standards; Severely wasted - low weight to height by 3 standard deviations below WHO child growth standards; Stunted - low height to age; Underweight - low weight to age

Nutritional shocks

Amit Sengupta, associate global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement, said that the data indicates significant periods of nutritional distress in children. “Wasting indicates nutritional shocks that have occurred in the recent past,” he said.

Dr Rajib Dasgupta, from the community medicine department at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi has observed a similar trend of an increase in wasting and decrease in stunting in earlier surveys like the Rapid Survey of Children 2013-’14 conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development compared with National Health Family Survey data of 2005-’06.

“When stunting decreases, it means that the situation has improved somewhat,” said Dasgupta. “It indicates that the chronic nutritional distress is not as bad.”

A child that lacks proper nutrition first stops growing in height. The the lack of nutrition is prolonged the child starts losing weight too. With a little more food, the child starts growing in height again, and only then starts putting on the required weight. The data from the health survey reflects this nutritional phenomenon as it shows that children, now eating more than they did earlier, are catching up faster with normal height for their age than they are catching up with their normal weight for height.

Gujarat is one of the states with nutrition indicators below the national average.
Gujarat is one of the states with nutrition indicators below the national average.

“If children are fed reasonably well during the first two years of their lives, and later during the growth phase, they shoot in height and even look spindly thin,” said Dr Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad. “But if there is no food, they do not put on enough weight for height.”

The data indicates children’s diets have to improve in both quality and quantity if they have to put on weight. “For this they do not only need rice and wheat but also milk, eggs, fruits, nuts, and vegetables,” said Shatrugna.

Government supplementary food programme under the Integrated Child Development Scheme lack the necessary food diversity of healthy diets.

“The whole idea is that the food should be something that the children are used to and should be sourced locally,” said Sylvia Karpakam, a public health activist in Bengaluru. “But many states offer packaged food. The idea of locally cooked food, which the children can smell being cooked is lost.”

Madhya Pradesh is one of the states where the malnutrition indicators have improved
Madhya Pradesh is one of the states where the malnutrition indicators have improved

Still too much stunting

Fewer of India’s children may now be stunted, as compared to 10 years ago, but their numbers are still pretty dismal. Less than 15% of Sri Lanka’s children below five years are stunted – that is less than half the proportion in India.

The effects of stunting including delayed motor development including impaired cognitive function that leads to poor school performance, are largely irreversible. Stunting is also associated with higher mortality among children.

“The improvement of nutrition indicators over a period of ten years is very sluggish,” said Shatrugna. “The changes are minimal.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

Play
Play
Play

2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.