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Malnutrition in India: The National Nutrition Strategy explained

September 8th, 2017 No comments

In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India.  A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017.[1]  It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country.  In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week.  This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin.[2]  Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted.  Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted.  Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.

What is the extent of malnutrition in India?

India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies.  According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.[3]

Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life.[4]   It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5.[5]  Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.

Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)

NFHS Survey

Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.

Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting.  While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period.[6],[7]  A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.[8]

The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2  In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children.  The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.[9]

Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2

Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?

No.  Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India.  On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese.  The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity).  This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.

What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?

Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country.  These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others.  However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years.  It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released.  Key features of the Strategy include:8

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups. The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission. This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels. Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives.  This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include: (i) promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, (ii) universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches), (iii) enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children, (iv) bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and (v) micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include: (i) supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation, (ii) health and nutrition counselling, (iii) adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and (iv) institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include: (i) convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and (iii) service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

[1] National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017, http://mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=4275

[2] Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/nutrition_report_for_website_18sep09.pdf

[3] Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU2759.pdf

[4] Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/13/helping-india-combat-persistently-high-rates-of-malnutrition

[5] Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4902.pdf

[6] National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf

[7] National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://rchiips.org/NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf

[8] National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Nutrition_Strategy_Booklet.pdf

[9] Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20National%20Report%202013-14%20Final.pdf

Population Stabilization

August 4th, 2010 1 comment

This post is pursuant to the discussion on population stabilization being held in Parliament currently.

India is the second most populous country in the world, sustaining 16.7% of the world’s population on 2.4% of the world’s surface area. The population of the country has increased from 238 million in 1901 to 1,029 million in 2001. Even now, India continues to add about 26 million people per year. This is because more than 50% of the population is in the reproductive age group.

India launched a family planning programme in 1952. Though the birth rate started decreasing, it was accompanied by a sharp decrease in death rate, leading to an overall increase in population.

In 1976, the first National Population Policy was formulated and tabled in Parliament.  However, the statement was neither discussed nor adopted.

The National Health Policy was then designed in 1983.  It stressed the need for ‘securing the small family norm, through voluntary efforts and moving towards the goal of population stabilization’.  While adopting the Health Policy, Parliament emphasized the need for a separate National Population Policy.

This was followed by the National Population Policy in 2000. The immediate objective of the policy was to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure and personnel, and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care. The medium-term objective was to bring TFR (Total Fertility Rate – the average number of children a woman bears over her lifetime) to replacement levels by 2010. In the long term, it targeted a stable population by 2045, ‘at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.’ (See http://populationcommission.nic.in/npp.htm)

Total Fertility Rate

India’s TFR was around 6.1 in 1961.  This meant that an average woman bore over 6 children during her lifetime.  Over the years, there has been a noticeable decrease in this figure.  The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS III, 2005-06) puts it at 2.7.  TFR is almost one child higher in rural areas (3.0) than in urban areas (2.1).

TFR also varies widely across states.  The states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have reached a TFR of 2.1 or less.  However, several other states like UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where over 40% of the population lives, TFR is still high.  (See http://www.jsk.gov.in/total_fertility_rate.asp)

Factors that affect population growth

The overarching factor that affects population growth is low socio-economic development. For example, Uttar Pradesh has a literacy rate of 56%; only 14% of the women receive complete antenatal care. Uttar Pradesh records an average of four children per couple. In contrast, in Kerala almost every person is literate and almost every woman receives antenatal care. Kerala records an average of two children per couple.

Infant mortality
In 1961, the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), deaths of infants per 1000 live births, was 115. The current all India average is much lower at 57. However, in most developed countries this figure is less than 5.

IMR is the lowest at 15 in Kerala and the highest at 73 in Uttar Pradesh. Empirical correlations suggest that high IMR leads to greater desire for children.

Early marriage
Nationwide almost 43% of married women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. This figure is as high as 68% in Bihar. Not only does early marriage increase the likelihood of more children, it also puts the woman’s health at risk.

Level of education

Fertility usually declines with increase in education levels of women.

Use of contraceptives

According to NFHS III (2005-06), only 56% of currently married women use some method of family planning in India. A majority of them (37%) have adopted permanent methods like sterilization.

Other socio-economic factors
The desire for larger families particularly preference for a male child also leads to higher birth rates. It is estimated that preference for a male child and high infant mortality together account for 20% of the total births in the country.

Government initiatives

The National Population Policy 2000 gave a focused approach to the problem of population stabilization. Following the policy, the government also enacted the Constitution (84th Amendment) Act, 2002. This Amendment extended the freeze on the state-wise allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to 2026. It was expected that this would serve ‘as a motivational measure, in order to enable state governments to fearlessly and effectively pursue the agenda for population stabilization contained in the National Population Policy, 2000’.

The National Commission on Population was formed in the year 2000. The Commission, chaired by the Prime Minister, has the mandate to review, monitor and give directions for implementation of the National Population Policy.

The Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilization Fund) was setup as an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2005. Its broad mandate is to undertake activities aimed at achieving population stabilization.

Programmes like the National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) etc. have also been launched by the government to tackle the healthcare needs of people. This is also expected to contribute to population stabilization.

Free contraceptives are also being provided. In addition, monetary incentives are given to couples undertaking permanent family planning methods like vasectomy and tubectomy.

Nutritional and educational problems are being targeted through programs like the mid-day meal scheme and the recently enacted Right to Education.

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For more details on the issue, see the website of the National Population Stabilization Fund (http://www.jsk.gov.in/)

Sources:
Registrar General, India
National Population Stabilization Fund
National Commission on Population
National Family Health Survey III (2005-06)