Nutrition

We work to ensure that all children in the country are well nourished and receive optimal nutrition to promote their survival, growth and development potential.

Rimpi Rani, an Aanganwadi worker feeds a child during a meeting as part of Village Health and Nutrition Day (VHND) in Motipur Kala Aanganwadi Centre in Shrawasti, Uttar Pradesh.
UNICEF/UN0281092/Vishwanathan

Reduction of undernutrition of children and adolescent girls

An adequate well-balanced diet is crucial for child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are more likely to be healthy, productive and ready to learn.

Undernutrition has the opposite effect, it stunts intellect, reduces productivity and perpetuates poverty. It increases a child’s chance of dying and increases their susceptibility to childhood infections, such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria.     

Undernutrition is caused by the insufficient intake and/or inadequate absorption of energy, protein or vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that in turn lead to nutritional deficiencies. 

Undernutrition is not only caused by not eating enough food.  Childhood diseases, such as diarrhoea or intestinal worm infestation, can affect the absorption of, or requirements, for nutrients.

Malnutrition is a broad term that refers to all forms of poor nutrition. Simply put, malnutrition includes both undernutrition and over nutrition.

An estimated one third of deaths among children under five are attributed to undernutrition.

Undernutrition is not a condition affecting only the poor, it cuts across all social-economic groups across India.

Since 2005, the prevalence of stunted children in India has fallen from 48 per cent to 35 per cent in children under-five. Two-thirds of deaths among children under five are attributed to undernutrition. (Source NFHS3 2005-06, CNNS 2016-18)

India is making good progress but there is a need for national leadership to accelerate already successful efforts to end stunting and other forms of undernutrition across India.

The battle against stunting and other forms of undernutrition is not yet won, progress in reducing the prevalence of undernutrition remains too slow.

The costs of inaction are much higher than those of action

Stunting causes irreversible physical and mental damage for children. It negatively affects school attendance and performance. This, in turn, can reduce later adult income-generation. Undernutrition reduces economic advancement due to losses in productivity, poorer cognition and poorer educational outcomes.

Improved nutritional status is key to sustainable development, affecting how other investments in education, health and child protection impact on Indian society. The costs of inaction are immense, resulting in losses to individuals, states and the Indian economy as a whole from millions more undernourished and poorly educated children.

Undernutrition, and the responses to it, must be viewed as one important manifestation of a larger development problem and is essential for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, to which India is signatory.

The solution

Investing in the first 1,000 days from conception to a child’s second birthday shapes the future of the nation. Ending stunting and other forms of undernutrition saves lives, improves health and prospects for children, and improves overall development progress. This makes the fight against undernutrition a national imperative.

UNICEF India promotes a C²IQ approach: coverage, continuity, intensity and quality towards a high impact programme across India.

We know how to end stunting and other forms of undernutrition. There are proven solutions that India implements today to improve nutrition for all – solutions that can boost development and help break the cycle of poverty.

Prevention and treatment of undernutrition requires more than a focus on nutrition alone. Improving access to safe water, promoting hygiene, and preventing and treating diseases are just as important. Nutrition can be improved through social safety nets, social protection schemes and other poverty eradication measures. Education is also critical as well as ending child marriage and avoiding adolescent pregnancies.

UNICEF supports the Government’s efforts to reduce stunting and wasting among the most vulnerable populations. This is being done by universalizing coverage of proven high-impact interventions around the 1000 days – from conception to two years –for adolescent girls and women. Special focus is on geographic pockets and social groups where the nutrition indicators are significantly below India’s and state averages. Improving child feeding practices, especially complementary foods between 6 and 18 months of age, are also critical.  

Social and behaviour change initiatives, such as community-level counselling, dialogue, media engagement and advocacy, especially in marginalized communities, is integral to promoting usage of locally available, nutrient-dense affordable foods for young children. Since malnourished mothers are more likely to have malnourished children, UNICEF promotes supplementary feeding schemes for adolescent girls, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.  

We are making good progress towards reducing stunting and other forms of undernutrition. Committed and coordinated leadership will be needed to accelerate progress.