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Unicef survey shows India has improved children's health but still lags

The NDA government, however, has still not released the results of the survey.

Srinibas Rout  |  New Delhi 

They say today's children are tomorrow's future. By that measure, prospects for India’s children, while seem to be improving, still lag much poorer parts of the world. A recent UN report that says nearly 300 million of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens still live in poverty.

India showed massive improvements in child nutrition over the last decade, the Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) survey conducted by Unicef has found.

The sample survey of over one lakh households showed that both the number of “stunting” (when children are unusually short for their age) children and “wasting” (when they weigh too little for their height) children had fallen to a historic low. The caveat? Indian children are still vastly hungrier than Africa, where the proportion of children who are underweight is 21%, well below India’s level.

However, the Indian government has still not released the report, nor has it given any reason for why it is sitting on a survey of such obvious public import.

A recent Economist report on RSOC showed that a decade ago 42.5% of all children under five were underweight. The reported rate now is just below 30%.

The RSOC suggests that the proportion of children who are wasted fell from nearly 20% to 15%, and the stunting rate fell from 48% to nearly 39%.

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Health Check: Summing up the Rapid Survey on Children | Create infographics

More than 50% of children in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, are below averageheight.

Over half of all girls aged 15-18 had a low body-mass index, meaning they were likelier to produce undernourished babies.

A deworming campaign has achieved little: not even 28% of under-fives had been given a recent dose. And though many women gave birth in institutions, fewer than half of babies were, as the WHO recommends, breastfed within an hour of birth.

The proportion of Indians who defecate in the open has fallen from 55% a decade ago to 45%, but that is more than enough to help spread diseases, worms and other parasites that make it more difficult to absorb nutrients even when food is abundant.

The Hindu in a report citing the RSOC says, only three states- Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Tripura-have reduced the proportion of underweight adolescent girls.

Kerala is the best performing State in the number of child stunting cases.

Manipur and Mizoram have the lowest numbers of underweight children.

Among developed states, Gujarat is the only one to perform worse than the national average in reducing the numbers of child stunting cases and underweight children. This has raised more questions about why the NDA government is holding on to the report; Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who touted the Gujarat model in his election campaign, was earlier the chief minister of Gujarat.

Almost all states, however, have performed poorly in reducing the number of underweight adolescent girls.

Jharkhand, a mineral-rich, largely tribal state that gained full statehood only 15 years ago and has been historically a neglected, has the highest number of underweight children under the age of five.

Delhi and Mizoram reduced child stunting at the fastest rate between 2004-05 and 2013-14.

Though Madhya Pradesh and Bihar still have high levels of underweight children, both states reduced these numbers at fast rates along with Himachal Pradesh.

No state reported an increase in the proportion of children underweight, a significant reversal from past trends.

The RSOC findings show that at the national level, stunting is higher in rural areas (41.7%) than in urban areas (32.1%), as is the case for underweight children.

First Published: Wed, July 08 2015. 15:20 IST
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