The Progress of Nations: Nutrition

A tale of two statistics

For many years, the internationally accepted estimate for malnutrition among India's children has been 63%. New estimates available this year (included in the league table of malnutrition) put the figure at 53%.

Does that mean that child malnutrition in India has fallen by 10 percentage points?

Unfortunately not.

The older figure of 63% was based on estimates made by the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad for the period 1988-1990 and was based on sample surveys in only eight states, only rural areas, and mostly in South India.

The new estimate of 53% comes from the recent (1992-93) National Family Health Survey, which collected detailed information from 25 states and was designed to be representative of 99% of India's young child population.

The new figure of 53% for the proportion of India's children who are malnourished can therefore not be directly compared with the earlier figure of 63%.

Because over a third of the world's malnourished children live in India, the new estimate also has a big impact on regional and worldwide trends. In 1993, for example, The Progress of Nations reported that the total number of malnourished children in the developing world was 190 million or 36% of all under-fives, whereas the charts on this page show a total of 165 million or 31%. There is therefore an apparent fall of 5% or approximately 25 million. The change in the estimated figure for India accounts for about half of this difference, but, as we have seen, it is a change which reflects not better nutrition but better estimates.

SOURCE (both charts) ACC/SCN preliminary estimates for Third World Report on the World Nutrition Situation 1996, forthcoming.

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