Stunting is a manifestation of malnutrition. Can it be addressed with the rapid economic growth?

Published: March 9, 2018

UNICEF defines stunting as a condition where the height for age is below minus two standard deviations (moderate and severe stunting) and minus three standard deviations (severe stunting) from the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards. The World Bank estimates that a 1% national shortfall in height can translate into a 1.4% loss in economic productivity. 
In India, 38% of children younger than five years of age are stunted, a manifestation of chronic under nutrition. As many as 46.8 million, 29% of the world’s stunted children under the age of five live in India.
Stunting is caused by a combination of factors like nutrition (mother and child), sanitation and other environmental factors. A gene mutation possibly causing stunted growth has also been identified. Some experts feel that only broader economic development can address stunting.
But Under-five stunting in India’s wealthiest quintile is as high as 26.7% according to the Rapid Survey of Children, 2013-14. Poorer countries which are not prominent at world economic forums are doing better than India. Bangladesh has emerged as a major success story in combating stunting. Peru is not an economic powerhouse but it has dramatically reduced stunting. Hence resource availability is not the issue but dietary diversity and quality are the main reasons behind high percentage of Stunting in India.
India has tools like National Health Mission, the new National Nutrition Mission (NNM) and the Swachh Bharat Mission. These are certainly woman and child friendly in stated intent. India does not lack policy or programs but in India’s public health implementation. 
India ranks in 100th place out of 119 countries in the global hunger index. It is time for India to move from food security to nutrition security. The national nutrition mission would be vital in this transition from food security to nutritional security.

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