The results of the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18, which were recently released by the Union health ministry, are important for the light they throw on the nutritional status of children in the country and the factors that influence it. It was the first survey of its kind and covered about 1.2 lakh children and adolescents in the 0-19 age group. Many of the findings reaffirm what is already known about the poor state of nutrition and its impact on the body and mind of children. It found unsurprisingly that 35% of children under five and 22% of school-age children were stunted while 24% of adolescents were thin for their age. Only last week, the Global Hunger Index had pointed out this. A study published in the journal Lancet last month also said that malnutrition is an important cause of death for children under five.
The survey evaluated nutritional status on the basis of diet diversity, meal frequency and minimum acceptable diet and found inadequacies in all these respects. It also pointed out some social and economic reasons behind these inadequacies. For example, it showed that children received better diets when mothers had higher levels of schooling. Only 11.4% of children of mothers with no schooling received adequately diverse meals, while 31.8% of those whose mothers educated to Class XII level received diverse meals. Only 3.9% of children whose mothers had zero schooling got a minimum acceptable diet. Girls have as much right to schooling as boys, and the social and economic benefits of women’s education have been well enumerated. The survey again underlines the fact that education of women is an essential requisite not only for the betterment of their social and economic status but also for improving the health and welfare of children.
The survey also found that children of highly educated and working women received meals less frequently and were prone to lifestyle diseases caused by the consumption of sugary and unhealthy food. It found that there is an increasing risk of non-communicable diseases among children and adolescents. Some findings should cause serious concern. One in 10 school-age children was pre-diabetic. About 1% of children were diabetic and 3-4% had high total cholesterol, 7% were at risk of chronic kidney disease and 5% of adolescents had hypertension. The incidence of the diseases increased as the children grew in age. All these findings should serve as warnings. They should help to formulate better policies to improve the nutrition of children and education of girls and to take care of the health of the young generation.