A National Institute of Nutrition survey has found that in an urban sample, 32.4% of SC and 32.6% of ST boys under five were underweight, compared to 25.8% of OBCs and 21% of others.
New Delhi: A government survey has found that nutritional indicators among children from SC and ST communities are significantly worse than for the rest of the urban population. The prevalence of low body weight, stunting and wasting is “significantly higher” for these groups, the National Institute of Nutrition report says.
The survey was conducted this year and covered over 48,000 people from 12,000 urban households across 16 states, Telegraph reported. As the charts above indicate, there are substantial differences in the results across different social groups, with marginalised sections faring worse on the number of underweight children, those with stunting (impaired growth with possible long-term impacts) as well as on wasting (a condition marked by severe weight loss). The three give independent figures on malnutrition and cannot be added.
The survey results also indicate that child nutrition standards are lower in households with low per capita income, illiterate fathers and no access to sanitation facilities.
According to nutrition specialists, simply more food is not enough to tackle these serious problems, which could exacerbate the pre-existing social hierarchies and disadvantages for marginalised groups.
“These results show that poor nutrition can’t just be solved by doling out food, such as through supplementary feeding programmes,” Suparna Ghosh-Jerath, additional professor at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Delhi who was not associated with the survey, told Telegraph. “Lack of education and nutritional awareness, unhealthy household environment, inadequate child care, household food insecurity and lack of human, social, political and financial resources – all of these factors can influence the nutritional status of children. For example, poor sanitation can contribute to infections or worm infestations, which can exacerbate under-nutrition.”
The numbers also indicate that nutritional standards are better among girls than boys. Scientist Avula Laxmaiah, who led the survey, told the newspaper that several surveys in urban areas have found that while girls are evidently discriminated against when it comes to healthcare and education, this is not true when it comes to nutritional data. This, he says, could also have to do with the physical activity done by girls and boys.
What the government needs to do, specialists suggested, is to take note of this data and come up with targeted programmes to tackle nutrition holistically – looking at education, sanitation, livelihood security and public health and nutrition measures.
“These are truly alarming figures,”Pankaj Bedi, programme officer for social inclusion at the Centre for Advocacy Research, a New Delhi-based organisation working on issues facing marginalised communities, told Telegraph. He added that government from the Centre to local levels must “heighten engagement with disadvantaged communities” in order to ensure that they had easy access to existing schemes.