ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Child Undernutrition in India

A Tale of Two Surveys

The child undernutrition estimates from the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey, 2016–18 reveal that many Indian states have made substantial decline, reversing their poor past record in wasting, ranging from 7 to 14 percentage points within just 30 months. Is it really possible to make such a large decline in such a short span of time? Or, does this point to an anomaly in data or estimation?

The author wishes to thank Padmini Swaminathan for comments, and Kumar Pasunoori for the help in data processing.

The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS), 2016–18 report provides the latest estimates on child undernutrition in India. A comparison of these estimates with that of the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4), 2015–16 brings out some incongruous results. This is especially so for wasting, in which, many states have performed phenomenally well reversing their previous poor record. The extent of decline in wasting is as high as 10 to 14 percentage points in some states within a short span of 30 months. These imply at least two things. For one, if CNNS estimates were true, it means that many Indian states might have made unprecedented progress in reducing child undernutrition within the last 30 months. For another, these estimates hint at the likelihood of an anomaly in data, implying the CNNS might have underestimated child undernutrition in India.

The CNNS 2016–18 report, brought out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, assumes salience, especially against two aspects. One, the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2019 ranks India 102nd out of 117 countries. Categorised as “serious,” India stands between Niger and Sierra Leone, and far behind other South Asian countries with a singular exception of Afghanistan (108th).1 The GHI is based on four indicators, of which two are child undernutrition (stunting and wasting). The GHI 2019 report states that India has the highest level of wasting (20.8%) among all the 117 countries (von Grebmer et al 2019: 14). Also, as per the prevalence threshold of stunting, India belongs to the “very high” category of stunting prevalence (de Onis et al 2019: 177).

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Updated On : 29th Jun, 2020
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