India Leads Commonwealth Tally in Underweight Children

. 10/14/10

India may rank second in the medals tally, but it is on top of the heap among the Commonwealth countries as the home to the highest number of underweight children.

About 43% of India's children are underweight, and 7 million under fives are severely malnourished, says a new report "Commonwealth or Common Hunger", released by Save the Children, a child rights NGO.

The report reveals that 64% of the world's underweight children live in 54 Commonwealth countries, and India has both the highest number and the highest proportion of underweight children. More than two-thirds of stunted children (88.5 million or 68.6%) and nearly half of those who are underweight (95 million or 48.7%) live in just seven Commonwealth countries.

India is one of seven Commonwealth countries that are not showing adequate progress on MDG 1. India has achieved just 0.9% progress, which is nowhere near achieving the target by 2015. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone and Kenya are the other nations that are lagging behind in MDGs.

Commenting on the report, noted agriculture scientist and chairperson of the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India, M S Swaminathan, said,"India has a vast burden of malnutrition among children and mothers, and the Prime Minister has called it a national shame. We now need to see urgent action that will deliver real change in the lives of mothers and their children in India. But I hope that we will see changes that can be shared with other countries across the Commonwealth."

Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children, said, "By hosting the Commonwealth Games against all odds, India has shown that with political will, it can overcome problems and find solutions. With 55 million children under five being underweight, we need to show similar leadership to finding a solution to the silent epidemic that is quietly wiping out generations of our children."

The critical period when malnutrition can have the most irrevocable impact is during the 33 months from conception to a child's second birthday, says the report. After this period, it is much harder to reverse the effects of chronic malnutrition, and the effects are life-long or life-threatening.

In 2000, 198 countries, including India, had committed to halving hunger and malnutrition by 2015. Sri Lanka, Ghana and Botswana are among the Commonwealth countries that are on course to meeting the target by 2015 through several low-cost interventions to reduce malnutrition.

For instance, support for exclusive breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions and could reduce under five mortality by as much as 20%.

By: Himanshi Dhawan

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