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'Child malnutrition on decline, but levels still unacceptable'

India has seen a decrease in the prevalence of child malnutrition in the last seven years but the levels are still "unacceptably high", a new survey has found.

The prevalence of child underweight has decreased from 53 per cent to 42 per cent and this represents a 20.3 per cent decrease over a seven year period with an average annual rate of reduction of 2.9 per cent, according to the Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA) survey report.

The survey found that the rates of child malnutrition were still unacceptably high in the 100 focus districts with the poorest child development indicators where over 40 per cent of children were underweight and almost 60 per cent were stunted.

Conducted by Naandi Foundation across 112 rural districts, the survey found "positive change for child nutrition in India is happening, including in the 100 Focussed Districts."

The 100 Focus Districts are located across six states -- Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Among those who were part of the survey included young parliamentarians cutting across party lines who decided to get together to make a difference to the shocking levels of malnutrition among children.

Noting that child malnutrition is widespread and starts early in life, the survey said that 42 per cent of children under five are underweight and 59 per cent in the 100 Focus Districts are stunted.

"Of the children suffering from stunting, about half are severely stunted; about half of all children are underweight or stunted by the age of 24 months," the report said.

Noting that the prevalence of malnutrition is significantly higher among children from low-income families, the survey found that children from Muslim or SC/ST households generally have worse nutrition indicators.

Birth weight is an important risk-factor for child malnutrition, the report said. It added that the prevalence of underweight in children born with a weight below 2.5 kg is 50 per cent while that among children born with a weight above 2.5 kg is 34 per cent.

The survey found that awareness among mothers about nutrition is low. "92 per cent mothers had never heard the word malnutrition."

Highlighting the negligence towards girl children even in their early childhood, the report said the nutrition advantage girls have over boys in the first months of life seems to be reversed over time as they grow older.

According to the survey, mothers' education level also determines children's nutrition.

"The prevalence of child underweight among mothers who cannot read is 45 per cent while that among mothers with 10 or more years of education is 27 per cent".

The survey found that giving colostrum to the newborn and exclusive breastfeeding for first 6 months of a child's life are not commonly practised.
"51 per cent of the mothers did not give colostrum to the newborn soon after birth and 58 per cent mothers fed water to their infants before six months," the report said.

The survey also emphasised the need for providing better services through anganwadi centres.

While a total of 96 per cent of the villages have their own anganwadi centre, 61 per cent of these only operate in pucca buildings.

"The anganwadi services accessed by the largest proportion of mothers (86 per cent) is immunisation; 61 per cent of anganwadi centres had dried rations available and 50 per cent provided food on the day of survey; only 19 per cent of mothers reported that the anganwadi centre provides nutrition counselling to parents," it said.

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