58% of children below five years of age are Anaemic

  • The recently released family health survey (NFHS 4) results show that over 58% of children below five years of age are anaemic, that is, they suffer from insufficient haemoglobin in the blood, leaving them exhausted, vulnerable to infections, and possibly affecting their brain development.
  • The survey, which was carried out in 2015-16 and covered six lakh households, also showed that around 38% of children in the same age group were stunted, 21% were wasted and 36% underweight.
  • While all the internationally accepted markers of children’s health have improved since the last such survey in 2005-06, the levels of undernourishment, caused mainly by poverty, are still high and the improvement too slow.
  • Based on the 2011 Census data, the total number of children under five in India in 2015 is projected at 12.4 crore.
  • So, around 7.2 crore children are anaemic, nearly 5 crore are stunted, around 2.6 crore are wasted and 4.4 crore are underweight.
  • These numbers are not too different from those in 2005-06. Since population has increased, their share is down.
  • The World Health Organisation says high levels of these markers are clear indications of poor socio-economic conditions and suboptimal health and/or nutritional conditions.
  • In short, lack of food, unhealthy living conditions and poor health delivery systems.
  • The WHO defines wasting as low weight for height, stunting as low height for age, and underweight as low weight for age.
  • The survey also found that just over half of all pregnant women were anaemic. This would automatically translate into their newborn being weak.
  • Overall, 53% of women and 23% of men in the 15-49 age group were anaemic.
  • There is wide variation among states.
  • The data for UP has not been released in view of the ongoing polls, according to Balram Paswan, professor at Mumbai-based International Institute for Population Sciences which was the nodal agency for the survey done for the health ministry.
  • But poorer states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have higher than national average rates on all markers.
  • More advanced states like those in the south, Haryana and Gujarat have slightly better numbers but are still at unacceptable levels.
  • In Tamil Nadu, 51% children are anaemic while in Kerala it is over one-third.
  • In many states, stunting has declined but the share of severely wasted children has increased.
  • These are clear signs of an endemic crisis of hunger in the country that policy makers don’t appear to be addressing.

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