thin-girl_1_1.jpgOne third of all Indian children are clinically underweight and three-quarters of all Indian infants between the ages of 6 and 35 months are anemic, according to The National Family Health Survey (3) which was conducted from December 2005 to August 2006. At first glance these figures seem to reinforce the feeling that poverty is the cause of this situation…but is it really?
In reality, there are some serious misconceptions about what constitutes a nutritious diet. Poverty by itself cannot be only cause. Ignorance, illitracy and traditional practices seem to hold sway. Take one of the worst affected states, Madhya Pradesh. Here as many as 60% of children under the age of three are underweight and it is difficult to believe that these many households do not have sufficient funds to feed their under-three’s adequately. For god’s sake, how much can a toddler eat?
Literacy is not the only answer
Other states are not this badly off, but the statistics are shameful. Kerala has almost a hundred percent literacy but even in this state as many as 29% of children under the age of three are underweight. Ofcourse the fact that the figures are lower shows that literacy does play a part…but it also shows that being literate is not enough. 
What do our toddlers eat?
Unfortunately, no data is available as to the exact diet of these toddlers in the Survey number 3. However, in the previous survey (NFHS 2) which took place 1999, I did find some revealing data. This survey showed that the majority of Indian women did not know that toddlers needed solid food. Milk was considered extremely important and therefore neither solid nor semi-solid food was provided to to the children. In fact only 76% of breastfeeding children were given semi-solids and solids between the age of 6-9 months. But starting solid foods by six months is the recommended norm, and considered necessary for proper growth.
Yet, even when their child was nine months old as many as 54% of mothers did not provide solid food regularly to their toddler! What is actually recommended is that semi-solid foods are started as early as four to five months and gradually the consistency made thicker so that the child gets used to eating.
The first breast milk is not fed to the baby
What is even sadder that in a country where breast-feeding is acknowedged to be superior to dairy milk, 70% of the mothers did not put their babies to the breast on the first day. But feeding babies the milk that comes out on in the first couple of days (colostrum) is recommended as it is considered extremely nutritious and helps babies fight infections. A large proportion of Indian mothers however squeezed out the first day’s milk and threw it away. However, the survey said that this practice decreased with education and was less prevalent in urban areas.
White polished rice is not good enough
Also, a large proportion of Indian children are fed polished white rice, which is less nutritious than unmilled rice. As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says, white polished rice has far fewer nutrients as compared to brown rice. It has half as much as iron and less than a quarter of the fibre! That explains why such a large proportion of the kids and their mothers (over 50%) were found to be anemic. Anemia is what causes growth retardation

I will leave you with some statistics from some ‘better off’ states to mull over:

The percentage of kids under the age of three who are:
Stunted (too short for height) – 36
Wasted (thin for height) – 15
Underweight (thin for age) – 40
No. of infant deaths pre live 1000 births – 38

Stunted (too short for height) – 21
Wasted (thin for height) – 16
Underweight (thin for age) – 29
No. of infant deaths pre live 1000 births -15

Tamil Nadu
Stunted (too short for height) – 25
Wasted (thin for height) – 22
Underweight (thin for age) – 33
No. of infant deaths pre live 1000 births – 31

Stunted (too short for height) -35
Wasted (thin for height) – 16
Underweight (thin for age) – 33
No. of infant deaths pre live 1000 births – 40

Note: This is my first post on Mutiny and I must add that I am proud to be a Mutineer.