Nearly a third of parents in the five countries where half of the world’s malnourished children live, including India, say their children complained they didn’t have enough to eat. One in six parents ask their children to skip school to work to help pay for the families’ food.
New research by Save the Children has revealed that after a year of soaring food prices, nearly half of the families surveyed said that they had been forced to cut back on food.
In the report, ‘A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition’, Save the Children warns that if no concerted action is taken, half a billion children will be physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years, their lives blighted by malnutrition.
Nearly half of India’s children (48%) are stunted, says the report, and adds that, an average Indian child (aged 2.5 years) is 5.8cm to 6cm shorter than the World Health Organisation (WHO) child growth standard.
India is home to more than a third of the world’s stunted children.
Such under-nutrition has its economic costs too, the report suggests, since adults affected by malnutrition earn almost 20% less than their non-affected counterparts.
“Productivity loss due to foregone waged employment was estimated to be US$2.3 billion a year in India,” the report says.
In India, Save the Children works on tackling malnutrition in seven states and was recently selected to host the Coalition for Sustainable
Nutrition Security, which is creating a strong evidence base to use in advising the government on nutrition programmes.
The news only get worse for India – only 7% of Indian children (aged 6 – 23 months) receive a ‘minimum acceptable diet’, as defined by WHO. For Pakistan, that number is even lower – 4%. India is the world’s second most populated country.
However the study found that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India, which guarantees poor households 100 days of paid employment, increased food spending by 40% on average, and that the effect was strongest for the poorest households who participated in the scheme the longest.
While malnutrition is the underlying cause of a third of child deaths, it has not received the same high-profile campaigning and investment as other causes of child mortality like HIV and AIDS or malaria, says Save the Children New Zealand CEO Liz Gibbs.
“While the child mortality rate from malaria has been cut by a third since 2000, child malnutrition rates in Africa have decreased by less than 0.3%.”
“And the costs – both in human and economic terms – are huge. For instance, a child who is chronically malnourished can have an IQ of up to 15 points less than a child properly nourished.”
However, the charity believes that a mixture of basic measures can collectively turn the tide on malnutrition and reduce vulnerability to food price spikes.
The report says that India’s social protection programmes are not focused on improving nutrition for infants and children and are not reaching a number of the most excluded and marginalised communities.