‘Outdated’ malnutrition data questioned

New Delhi, Sep 8 :

Expressing surprise on the absence of latest official data on malnutrition, a Parliamentary panel has asked the government to come up with a time-bound action plan to reduce under-nutrition and ensure real time flow of information for proper monitoring.

“We are surprised to note that in this modern era of information technology, there is no recent official data on malnutrition. What is available is seven years old and outdated…National Family Health Survey III data of 2005-2006,” the panel said.

The Committee on Estimates tabled its report titled ‘Malnutrition and Infants in Mothers’ in Parliament this week, in which it highlighted the absence of latest data on child health.

“Malnutrition has been recognised as a major threat to social and economic development and casts an adverse impact on children, adults, women and the entire workforce of the country,” the panel has said.

It said the Ministry of Health should have reduced periodicity of NFHS, which used to be held at a gap of six years, much earlier.

“It is only now that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has proposed to conduct NFHS IV and also decided to slash the periodicity of NFHS to three years,” the panel said.

It also pulled up the government for not computerising anganwadi centres in villages and habitations connected by broadband and internet and ensure real time data flow for nutrition monitoring across India.

The panel said it was disappointed to note that the aim of the UPA’s flagship National Rural Health Mission to bring down infant mortality rate to less than 30 per 1000 live births by 2011-12 has not yet been achieved.

The IMR remains high at 44 per 1000 live births as of October 2012, it said.

Based on the available data, the committee has expressed concern that 59 per cent children under the age of five years are stunted and 3.3 per cent face severe wasting in the 100 focus districts which ranked the lowest on childhood development index in six states.

These states are Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during a speech in January last year, had described malnutrition as a “national shame”.

“…The problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high,” he had said.

Quoting Secretary, Women and Child Development, which also addresses malnutrition under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, the committee said two in every five children in India roughly are still underweight and every second child is stunted.

“India is still faced with the daunting task of reducing under nutrition among children. Although there are indications of improvement in recent years from results of independent and state level surveys, ensuring better nutritional status for women and children remains an unfinished agenda,” Secretary, WCD Ministry had told the Committee on October 22, 2012.

The committee, however, noted that the HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) survey of 2011 on malnutrition in India stated that the prevalence of underweight children had decreased considerably from 53.1 per cent in 2004 to 42 per cent in 2011.

The Committee on Estimates further stated in its report that malnutrition continued to be a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children in India.

As many as 22 per cent newborns in India have low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) which is a major indicator of malnutrition.

The proportion of underweight children in India has been increasing with age as pointed out by NFHS III conducted in 2005-2006, the panel notes.

The NFHS III showed that while 29.5 per cent children below six months of age were underweight, the proportion of underweight children rose to 36.7 per cent for 9 to 11 month olds; 44.9 per cent for 24 to 35 month olds and 44.8 per cent for 40 to 59 month olds.

On the status of malnutrition among women in the country, the committee said as per NFHS II and NFHS III, the percentage of women in the age group 15 to 49 years with body mass index less than 18.5 rose from 33 per cent in 1999 to 35.6 per cent in 2006.

“During the same period, anaemia among married women rose from 52 per cent to 56 per cent and among pregnant women it rose from 49.7 per cent to 58.7 per cent.

“For want of data, we are not in a position to comment whether there has been any improvement or further deterioration in the nutritional status of women in the past seven years,” the panel said lamenting lack of latest data.(PTI)

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