More than a quarter of the children under the age of five in the national capital are underweight, which may cause them to suffer stunted growth and be more vulnerable to diseases, the National Family Health Survey has found.
According to the fourth edition of the survey, 27.3 per cent of the children in Delhi have an age-weight ratio lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) standard, which indicates inadequate nutrition in their diet.
Malnutrition is the single biggest threat to global public health and causes nearly 45 per cent of the deaths of children aged five years or less, according to the WHO.
Reports indicate that malnutrition in children also affects their education, as the degree of cognitive impairment is directly related to the severity of stunting and Iron Deficiency Anaemia.
In the first two years of life, stunted children usually have lower cognitive test scores, delayed enrolment, higher absenteeism and more class repetition compared with non-stunted children.
“Our children require the best nutrition as they grow faster in this age and need proper nutrition for healthy growth. However, they are also the biggest sufferers due to lack of equal access to nutrition”, said Raghuram Mallaiah, Director, Neonatology, at New Delhi’s Fortis La Femme hospital.
“Malnutrition is not just lack of food, it is a combination of factors like insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, poor care and feeding practices, inadequate health services, frequent infections or disease, and poor water and sanitation,” Mallaiah said.
“In the long term, it may impair the child’s physical and mental development,” he said.
Inadequate nutrition may stunt a child’s growth, deprive him or her of essential vitamins and minerals, and make children more susceptible to infectious diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, measles and can even cause death, said Mallaiah.
Vitamin A deficiency in children reduces immunity and increases the incidence and gravity of infectious diseases that result in increased school absenteeism.
Underweight children are also likely to be at a greater risk of premature death due to the negative impacts of undernourishment, such as micronutrient deficiencies, poor immunity and susceptibility to infections.
“To fight this menace, we need to create sustainable, resilient food systems for healthy diets and ensure that social protection and nutrition-related education is available to all.
“We also need to align our health systems to the nutrition needs of children, ensuring that policies are devised to improve access to nutrition,” Mallaiah said.
With agency inputs