Plenty of malnourished

GDP growing at 8.3 per cent, but almost half of Indian children under five affected

Published: Saturday 30 September 2006

-- Undernutrition kills about 5.6 million children under five every year in the developing world. 146 million children under five or one out of four -- more than half of them (78 million) living in South Asia -- are underweight, and at increased risk of an early death

Similar patterns are seen as far as stunted growth goes. It is a result of severe under-nutrition. South Asia has the highest levels in the world, with growth of 44 per cent of its children stunted

In India, the prevalence of malnutrition varies across states, with Madhya Pradesh recording the highest rate (55 per cent) and Kerala showing the lowest (27 per cent)

Children in rural areas are nearly twice as likely to be underweight as those in urban areas.Down to Earth In Latin America/Caribbean and East Asia/Pacific regions, children living in rural areas are, respectively, 2.6 times and 2.1 times as likely to be underweight as children living in urban areas

South Asia is the only region in the world where the proportion of underweight girls is higher (47 per cent) than the proportion of underweight boys (44 per cent)

Of the estimated 20 million low-weight births (less than 2.5 kg) each year in the developing world, more than half (11.4 million) occur in South Asia and more than one-third (7.8 million) in India

Low rates of breastfeeding, iodine, vitamin A and iron deficiency contribute to undernutrition. South Asia has the lowest rate of vitamin A consumption, at 58 per cent, and East Asia/Pacific (excluding China) the highest, at 73 per cent

Apart from food, the factors that contribute to malnutrition in children include access to health services, quality of care for the child and pregnant mother, and hygiene

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies also affect children's survival and growth. Anaemia affects 74 per cent of children under the age of three, more than 90 per cent of adolescent girls and 50 per cent of women. Iodine deficiency, which reduces learning capacity by up to 13 per cent, is widespread because less than half of households use iodised salt. Vitamin A deficiency, which causes blindness, increases rates of illness and death among pre-schoolers, is also widespread

Down to Earth With some progress between 1990 and 2004, the proportion of underweight children in developing countries declined from 33 per cent to 28 per cent. This was driven primarily by China, which halved the number of underweight children.

The East Asia/Pacific region witnessed a steep decline in the prevalence of under-nutrition, which decreased from 25 per cent to 15 per cent

Malnutrition is a problem in industrialised countries as well, but there it is more likely to result from unhealthy diet than insufficient food

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