Malnourishment: A sordid saga

As per studies, one in three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India. In India, each year, an estimated 27 million children are born—nearly 2 million of which do not survive the fifth birthday. A major cause of this is malnourishment. Over 200 million people in India do not have access to good food, and more than 40% of the children who manage to survive beyond the age five are malnourished. In India, 46% of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47% are underweight and at least 16% are wasted. Millions of poor children in India do not receive immunization. 79% of children under age 3 suffer from anaemia. More than 50% of children have poor learning capacity because of iodine deficiency.

Due to inadequate intake of essential nutrients, malnourished children experience several problems, including delays in development, weight-loss and other illnesses. In young children, undernourishment can greatly compromise the immune system, making them highly susceptible to infectious diseases. Besides this, it causes severe growth implications and cognitive implications like memory deficiency, low IQ scores, impaired school performance, and learning disabilities.

Underprivileged children are at a higher risk for various short-term and long-term complications as they experience several macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies since the time of birth. In fact, it is before birth that many children and their mothers face complications, due to undernourishment. Girls are more at risk of undernourishment than boys because of their inferior social status. Every year, thousands of women die due to negligible intake of essential nutrients during pregnancy. The child and maternal mortality rates for India are amongst the highest in the world. It is believed that malnutrition alone causes 50% of infant and maternal deaths.