6.7 Million Children in India Facing Food Insecurity, Study Reveals

A recent study in India found 5.9 million ‘zero food’ children, who are six to 23-month-old infants who have not ingested any substantial calories for 24 hours.

India Leads with 6.7 Million Zero-Food Children, Almost Half of Global Total: Harvard Study

According to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open on February 12, India has alarmingly ranked high in the number of children aged six-23 months who have not consumed any food over 24 hours. The study reveals disturbingly high figures, with India having the most number of zero-food children, totaling 6.7 million.

The study encompassed 92 low and middle-income countries (LMIC), recognizing the critical importance of the initial two years for growth and development in children, who are susceptible to undernutrition if not adequately nourished. According to the findings, India stands out with the highest number of ‘zero-food’ children, totaling 6.7 million (67,00,000), which constitutes nearly half of all such children across the 92 surveyed countries. The publication analyzed the study’s results, which defined ‘zero-food children’ as those who have not consumed any food over 24 hours.

The study underscores the significance of incorporating solid or semisolid foods into a child’s diet, as breastfeeding alone may not suffice to provide adequate nutrition, potentially hindering their growth and development. India ranks third globally in this aspect, with 19.3 percent of children classified as ‘zero-food,’ trailing behind West African countries Guinea (21.8 percent) and Mali (20.5 percent).

Nigeria secured the second position in terms of the highest number of ‘zero-food’ children, with 962,000, followed by Pakistan with 849,000. The researchers gathered data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster (MICS) surveys conducted between May 20, 2010, and January 27, 2022. Out of the total sample size, 51.4 percent were boys.

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The data for India was obtained from the National Family Health Survey 2019-2021, as reported by DownToEarth. However, the study acknowledges that “Some surveys, notably in India from 2019 to 2021, may have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, potentially leading to an increased prevalence of zero-food children.”

nearly two-thirds of children experiencing this critical food shortage are concentrated in five states: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

This highlights the importance of introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding after six months of age to ensure proper child development. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recommends that for children aged nine to eleven months, half of their caloric intake should come from solid foods, while breast milk can still be the primary source of nutrition for younger infants.

Despite existing food programs, millions of Indian children still lack basic nutrition. India offers daily supplements for children aged 6 months to 3 years, but a significant gap exists between policy and reality. While 20 states have shown improvement, several others, like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, have seen a worrying rise in “zero-food” children. This suggests a problem with program delivery, as the supplements are not reaching the most vulnerable families.

Two out of 10 infants within this age group have neither had solid nor liquid food for a whole day; the method followed in the study only identifies the last 24 hours and cannot show how many hours the child went without food earlier. The data were extracted from the National Family Health Surveys for consecutive years since 2016, which showed no marked reduction in food insecurity at this level.

Focus on the most in-need The program’s current focus on households with 6-month-olds might be missing a crucial point. While breastfeeding is recommended until then, are mothers in these often poverty-stricken and remote areas receiving adequate nutrition themselves? To truly combat hunger and malnutrition, India’s food security policies need to prioritize these families, ensuring the supplements reach those who need them most.

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