Few challenges facing the global community today match the scale of malnutrition, a condition that causes an estimated 45% of deaths of children under the age of five. Malnutrition results from the interaction of poor-quality diets, poor-quality health and care environments, and behaviours. Globally, approximately 155 million children under-five suffer from stunting. These children begin their lives at a marked disadvantage: they face learning difficulties in school, earn less as adults, and face barriers to participation in their communities. In 2016, nearly 52 million children under five were wasted and 17 million were severely wasted.
Malnutrition in India
Although declines in India’s child under-nutrition rates have accelerated since 2006, these faster developments are still well below the rates of progress needed to achieve the global nutrition targets. Within the State of Maharashtra, only 8.5% of children aged 6-23 months receive an adequate diet. Severely undernourished children, especially those who belong to marginalized and disadvantaged communities are at risk of poor growth and development (psycho, social and cognitive), mortality and morbidity.
An intergenerational cycle of under nutrition is often perpetuated, with a high incidence of babies born with low birth weight, more susceptible to infections, more likely to experience growth failure, reflected in high levels of child under nutrition and anemia. This intergenerational cycle of under nutrition is accentuated by multiple deprivations related to poverty, social exclusion and gender discrimination.
Window of Opportunity
The period during pregnancy and a child‘s first two years of life are considered a critical window of opportunity for prevention of growth faltering. Around two thirds of malnutrition-related deaths are due to inappropriate caring and Infant and Young Child Feeding practices, and occur in the first year of life (WHO).
Recent anthropometric data from low-income countries confirms the levels of under-nutrition increase markedly from 3 to 24 months of age. In India, by the age of 18-23 months, 58% of children have stunted growth due to under nutrition. Taking full advantage of this window of opportunity, State Nutrition Missions in India focus on the 1,000-day post-conception period in order to improve child nutrition.