42 % underweight children, a national shame: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday described the problem of malnutrition as a “national shame”.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Highlighting that 42 per cent children were underweight in a country witnessing high growth,
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday described it as a national
shame and said the government could not rely solely on ICDS
to address the issue.

"...the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national
shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of
under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high," he said
releasing a report on Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA) here.

Pointing out that India had not succeeded in reducing the
levels of malnutrition fast enough, he said, "Though the ICDS
continues to be our most important tool to fight malnutrition,
we can no longer rely solely on it."

The HUNGaMA report states that the prevalence of child
underweight has decreased from 53 per cent to 42 per cent,
marking a 20.3 per cent fall over a seven year period with an
average annual rate of reduction of 2.9 per cent.

The survey found that the rates of child malnutrition were
still unacceptably high in the 100 focus districts with the
poorest child development indicators where over 40 per cent of
children were underweight and almost 60 per cent stunted.

"We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels
are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail,"
Singh said.

He announced that the government will launch multi-sectoral schemes in 200 districts where malnutrition levels are very high.

He said that policy makers and programme implementers need to clearly understand many linkages -- between education and health, sanitation and hygiene, drinking water and nutrition -- and then shape their responses accordingly.

Singh pointed out that the survey reports high levels of malnutrition, but it also indicates that one child in five has reached an acceptable healthy weight during the last seven years in 100 focus districts.

"This 20 per cent decline in malnourishment in the last seven years is better than the rate of decline reported in National Family Health Survey-III," he said.

"However, what concerns me is that 42 per cent of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence," he said.

It is for the first time in nearly five years that data on district-level malnutrition has been compiled.

The survey conducted by Naandi covered 100 worst-performing districts — the ones listed by UNICEF Child Development Index, 2009 — and compared them with the six best performing districts — two each in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.

Of the 100 worst-performing districts, 40 are in Uttar Pradesh, 22 in Bihar, 15 in Jharkhand, 12 in Madhya Pradesh, 10 in Rajasthan and five in Orissa.

(With PTI inputs)