India is home to around 40 percent of the world’s stunted children under the age of five and nearly 50 percent of children suffering from wasting, according to the 2015 Global Nutrition Report released today by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. Even as it remains the country bearing the largest burden of undernutrition, however, India has made progress at the subnational level.
The authors note that in the inaugural 2014 Global Nutrition Report, India was one of several countries for which many of the assessments were based on data from between 2000 and 2006. The availability of new data, such as preliminary data from the Indian government and UNICEF’s 2013–2014 Rapid Survey of Children (RSOC), allows the authors to cautiously observe that India has accelerated its progress on stunting, wasting, and exclusive breastfeeding compared with results from the previous two surveys.
According to this RSOC, exclusive breastfeeding rates in India have nearly doubled in the past eight years from 34 to 62 percent. Not only do all 28 states now have exclusive breastfeeding rates of 60 percent or higher-- Bihar, the worst ranked state in 2005/2006, has quadrupled its rate of exclusive breastfeeding and is now ranked above 16 other states.
Nearly all states in India showed significant declines in child stunting between 2006 and 2014. Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh showed some of the slowest declines; all three had high percentages of child stunting back in 2006. Interestingly, states with high levels of stunting do no worse in decreasing stunting than other states, with the exception of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh.
In contrast with child stunting, changes in wasting rates varied more from state to state. While most states show declines in wasting, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, and Mizoram show increases in wasting (increases for the first two are marginal). The authors point out that wasting rates vary more by season than stunting rates do so the figures should be viewed with caution, and more research on the uneven progress in reducing wasting is needed.
One of the overall themes highlighted in the report is the critical relationship between climate change and nutrition. The impact of seasonality on nutrition outcomes for children in India is so great, that even in the absence of climate change, the authors say that a greater focus on seasonality in nutrition assessment, programming, and policy would be warranted. With the shocks associated with climate change, such measures are even more necessary.
The extent to which India’s numbers impact global statistics underscores the importance of having accurate data at the national level, and the large variations seen between states over time mean a clear picture at the sub-national level is critical as well.
BY: Rachel Kohn, IFPRI