Economic growth ‘not linked to reduction in child undernutrition in India’

Washington, Mar 9: A new study has found that economic growth in India has no automatic connection to reducing undernutrition in Indian children.

Researchers at the Schools of Public Health at University of Michigan and Harvard University said further reductions in the prevalence of childhood undernutrition are likely to depend on direct investments in health and health-related programs.

Malavika Subramanyam, S V Subramanian and colleagues collected data from the National Family Health Surveys conducted in India in 1992-93 (28,066 children), 1998-99 (26,121 children) and 2005-06 (23,139 children), which use stratified, representative samples of the population from every state of India.

They used the measurements-weight-for-age, height-for-age, and weight-for-height-in these surveys to classify individual children's nutritional status as underweight, stunting or wasting, respectively, as per the WHO Child Growth Standards.

The study reported that the prevalence of underweight decreased from 49.1 percent in 1992-93 to 43.8 percent in 1998-99 to 40.2 percent in 2005-06.

Stunting prevalence also decreased while the prevalence of wasting decreased only marginally from 24 percent in 1992-93 to 22 percent in 2005-06. Meanwhile, during the study period, the Indian economy grew at an annual rate of 7 -9 percent.

Further, there was substantial variation between states in each of the measures of undernutrition, as well as economic growth, and this enabled the authors to examine whether changes in state economic growth were associated with a reduction in the risk of a child being undernourished in a given state.

The authors found that state economic growth was not associated with the risk of underweight, stunting, and wasting.

"We failed to find consistent evidence that economic growth leads to reduction in childhood undernutrition in India," said the researchers.

"Direct investments in appropriate health interventions may be necessary to reduce childhood undernutrition in India," they concluded.

The findings are published in this week's PLoS Medicine.

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