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Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition

  • 28 November, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition


  • Two recent reports: the annual report on “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the 2020 Hunger report, “Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow” by the Bread for the World Institute give out staggering facts about Indian food insecurity and malnutrition.

Malnutrition in India

  • Using two globally recognised indicators – the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) and the Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity (PMSFI), the reports indicate India to be one of the most food-insecure countries, with the highest rates of stunting and wasting among other South Asian countries.
  • PoU measures the percentage of people who are consuming insufficient calories than their required minimum dietary energy requirement.
  • PMSFI identifies the percentage of people who live in households that are severely or moderately food insecure.

Current Scenario:

  • Going by official estimates available till 2011-12, the reduction in poverty has been substantial.
  • However, malnutrition has not declined as much as the decline has occurred in terms of poverty.
  • The reduction in India is found to be much lower than in neighbouring China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • Except China, these are countries which had somewhat similar levels of PoU in and around the year 2000.
  • It must be noted that the decline in China is way higher than that of India, even though it had started with lower levels of PoU in 2000.
  • Afghanistan that started with a higher base than India had experienced higher rates of decline.
  • Economically, while Afghanistan is relatively much poorer and has gone through several prolonged conflicts in last two decades, it has been more successful in reducing malnutrition than India.
  • Pakistan and Nepal which had almost similar levels of PoU in the initial years, have also successfully reduced malnourishment at a rate that is much faster than India.
  • Irrespective of the base level of PoU, most of these countries have done better than India on this dimension.

Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey:

  • These findings also get substantiated through Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey.
  • It covers almost 90% of the world’s population.
  • However, as it is not allowed to be conducted in India, direct estimates are not available.
  • Estimates indicate that between 2014-16, about 29.1% of the total population was food insecure, which rose up to 32.9% in 2017-19.
  • In terms of absolute number, about 375 million of the total population was moderately or severely food insecure in 2014, which went up to about 450 million in 2019.


  • Despite the National Food Security Act – 2013 two crucial elements that still are left out are the non-inclusion of nutritious food items such as pulses and exclusion of potential beneficiaries.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic would make the situation worse in general, more so for vulnerable groups.
  • Though States have temporarily expanded the coverage in the wake of the crisis, the problem of malnutrition is likely to deepen with rising unemployment and the economic slump.
  • The recently initiated “Hunger Watch” by the Right to Food Campaign also presents a very grim situation, with close to one out of every three respondents reporting low food consumption and massive compromise on food quality.

Way Forward:

  • A major shift in policy has to encompass the immediate universalisation of the Public Distribution System.
  • There is a dire need for the distribution of quality food items.
  • Innovative interventions such as the setting up of community kitchens must be planned, among other things.
  • The need of the hour remains the right utilisation and expansion of existing programmes to ensure that at least some part of this growing concern of malnutrition in the country is addressed.



Source: TH


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