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More Underweight Women in India than Sub-Saharan Africa; Malnutrition Biggest Killer of Infants: Report

The report said that chronic deficiency of energy among women of reproductive age was a manifestation of the long-standing problem of malnutrition in India, also increasing the risk of preterm birth and low birth-weight.

Aniruddha Ghosal | News18.com@aniruddhg1

Updated:September 19, 2019, 12:10 PM IST
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More Underweight Women in India than Sub-Saharan Africa; Malnutrition Biggest Killer of Infants: Report
Image for representation. (Reuters)

There is a larger proportion of underweight women in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa, a report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) estimated. It also stated that malnutrition continues to be a leading risk factor for death in children below the age of five.

The ICMR report, which was published in the British medical journal The Lancet, read, "The higher proportion of underweight women in the reproductive age group in India compared with sub-Saharan Africa has been suggested to contribute to a higher prevalence of low birth-weight in India, even though sub-Saharan Africa is poorer."

The report further said that chronic deficiency of energy among women of reproductive age was a manifestation of the long-standing problem of malnutrition in India, which also increases the risk of preterm birth and babies with low birth-weight.

The weight of a child at its birth was determined by a host of factors, from maternal nutrition to gestation and the mother's own weight, and was an "inter-generational issue", the report pointed out.

India needs improvement in the nutritional status of girls and women in the pre-conception period and during pregnancy. Quality of antenatal care, including treatment in cases of complications in pregnancy were also among suggestions made in the report.

Malnutrition accounts for 68 percent deaths in children under the age of five years, and was responsible for 17.3 percent of total disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) —a measure used to gauge the number of years that one loses throughout their lifetime owing to illness and disability — with the highest rates in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Rajasthan.

Low birth-weight was the largest contributor to malnutrition in children. The prevalence of low birth-weight was 21 percent in India in 2017, and ranged between 9 percent in Mizoram to 24 percent in Uttar Pradesh.

Out of the 1.04 million infants who died under the age of five years in 2017, 7,06,000 were cases of malnutrition. Even though the overall death rate of children under five decreased during 1990-2017, proportion of deaths due to malnutrition fell only 2 percent — from 70 percent in 1990 to 68.2 percent in 2017.

Low birth-weight — the largest contributor to malnutrition DALYs in India — had showed only a "modest declining trend" and that within child growth failure, "the highest contribution to DALYs was from wasting, the prevalence of which declined only moderately in India during 2010–17."

The rates of child stunting was 39% in 2017 and ranged from 21% in Goa to 49% in Uttar Pradesh. The prevalence of child underweight was 33%, with 16% in Manipur and 42% in Jharkhand and that of child anaemia was 60% in India in 2017, 21% in Mizoram and 74% in Haryana.

Along with low birth-weight, short gestation (43.6%) also accounted for DALYs in infants under five in 2017. Failure in child growth stood at 20.7 %. Neonatal disorders at 54.9%, respiratory diseases (22.6%) and diarrhoeal diseases were also major contributors.

"Because low birth-weight was the largest contributor to child malnutrition DALYs in India, its slow decline should be addressed as a priority. South Asia, with India as its largest component, is estimated to have the highest prevalence of low birth-weight for any region in the world," the study said.

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