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Almost 40% of India's children are stunted, says global hunger report

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently challenged Pakistan on waging war on poverty. But a new study shows that India has a higher share of underweight children than Pakistan.

The Global Hunger Index 2016, released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), says that 15% of children under the age of 5 in India experience "child wasting", which means their weight is too low for their height. In comparison, 10% of Pakistan's children have child wasting. The situation was much worse in 1990-94, when 20% of children had wasting compared with 12% in Pakistan.

India doesn't come out very well in the report. Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Uganda and Gambia have better GHI scores than India which is ranked a dismal 97th out of 118 countries in the index.

The GHI defines hunger as consuming less than 1800 calories a day. For the 2016 report, IFPRI has used data spanning 2011-16, different for each component. About two-thirds of the Global Hunger Index is based on data on undernourishment, and mortality rates of children less than five years old. This reflects food intake, hygiene and maternal health.

The remaining one-third of the index is based on the height, and weight of children, which measure levels of chronic and acute malnutrition respectively.


Or more than one-third of Indian children under the age of 5 are stunted. This means their height is lower than expected.

Central African Republic, which has the worst GHI score, has an equivalent number of stunting, as do Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

In 1991-92, the share of stunted children was over 60% or almost two-thirds of the number of children, reducing to 48% in 2006-10 period, and 38% now.


Of India's children die before turning 5 years old. Iraq is slightly better off with a 3% child mortality rate.

Child mortality is a result of malnutrition as well as hygiene, cleanliness and mother's health.

India's share, though, has fallen impressively over two decades: from 12% in 1992, to 6.6% in 2008 and 5% in the latest 2015 data.

Pakistan has a high child mortality rate of 8%.


Share of India's population that is undernourished in 2014-16.

In comparison, 9% of China's population and just 1.6% of Brazil's population were undernourished.

India hasn't improved much - in 1991-92, the share of undernourished was 22%. The Dominican Republic, whose share in 1991-92 was 32%, has brought down the share to 12% in 2014-16.


The improvement in India's index since 2000. This is quite low.

Ethiopia, Angola, Cameroon and Kenya recorded above 40% improvement.

Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Republic of Congo improved their hunger metrics by around 30%.

First published: 12 October 2016, 6:04 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.