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.