Malnutrition in India

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India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies sitting on a population of 1.241 billion [1]. Yet still, since its independence in 1947 majority of Indian population is either at or below the National Poverty Line. According to a report by the World Bank, malnutrition in India is more common than in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than a third of malnourished children live in India. The number is almost 5 times higher than that of China. Malnutrition thus has alarming implications for a country that will soon boast the world’s largest workforce. The last thing India needs is a workforce which is not capable of catering to its needs just because we did not invest in them early enough and well enough. Malnutrition has now grown to become one of India’s silent emergencies and one of its greatest human development hurdles. Thus if this problem is not addressed methodically India could end up hindering its massive untapped potential.

“Malnutrition is the condition that results from eating a diet in which certain nutrients are lacking, in excess (too high an intake), or in the wrong proportions.” [2] India has now attained a position as the world’s fourth largest economy. But even now, the U.N. reports show that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5 every year, an approximate of four every minute, from preventable diseases which are a result of malnutrition. Now that we have understood the extent of the problem, we can look into the factors which fuelled this problem in the first place. Poverty in India plays a key role in causing malnutrition. Lack of a balanced/adequate diet along with poor hygiene conditions make malnutrition among children and adults alike inevitable. The children of low-income groups are subjected to heavy labour as well as acute gender bias. In this sector of the economy female illiteracy due to gender discrimination prevails. Thus the mother does not have the sufficient knowledge or the autonomy to provide properly for her child. This also acts as a potent factor in fuelling malnutrition. The economic impacts of malnutrition on the Indian economy are tremendous. “The global economic impact of malnutrition could be a staggering $125 billion by 2030, with India accounting for nearly $46 billion, according to the first international study of its kind in four countries.” [3] A recent government survey has shed light to the fact that malnourishment poses a great threat to India’s socio-economic development. Research shows that India loses 4% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to malnutrition that branches out from several factors such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, unsafe drinking water etc. 1. Source: Census Report of 2011

2. Article: Malnutrition URL: 3. The Economic Times, May 29, 2013.

In a labour-intensive developing economy like India, a workforce incompetent enough to compete in the global markets as well as a loss in 4% of GDP could result in severe economic losses reaching upto at least $10 billion per year in terms of loss of productivity, illness and death. “There is now strong evidence that eliminating undernutrition in young children can boost the GNP of countries, like India, by up to 11%.As The Lancet highlights, India does not even have to look far to see progress.” [4] The Indian government has already formulated several policies to eradicate malnutrition. The most prominent among these policies is the ICDS or Integrated Child Development Scheme initiated by the Government of India in 1975. The government working in close affinity with UNICEF tries to provide assistance to nearly 34 million children and 7 million pregnant and nursing mothers by providing them with nutrition, healthcare and other basic utilities. The ICDS programme is one of the largest national...
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