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India's zero-food children rate alarming, comparable to African nations

A concerning study has surfaced, revealing that India’s rate of “zero-food” children—those who have not consumed any food in 24 hours

By Ground report
New Update
India's zero-food children rate alarming, comparable to African nations

A concerning study has surfaced, revealing that India’s rate of “zero-food” children—those who have not consumed any food in 24 hours—is alarmingly high, comparable to certain West African nations.

The study, drawing from the Union Health Ministry’s National Family Health Survey for 2019-2021 and published in eClinicalMedicine, part of The Lancet family, places India’s prevalence at 19.3%, only behind Guinea’s 21.8% and Mali’s 20.5%.

The study puts the prevalence of zero-food children in India at an estimate of 19.3%, ranking it third after Guinea with 21.8% and Mali with 20.5%. The statistics show much lower figures in Bangladesh at 5.6%, Pakistan at 9.2%, DR Congo at 7.4%, Nigeria at 8.8%, and Ethiopia at 14.8%.

This stark statistic is part of a broader analysis conducted using health surveys from 92 low-income and middle-income countries between 2010 and 2021. Led by Harvard University’s population health researcher S.V. Subramanian and his team, indicates that South Asia has the highest prevalence of zero-food children, with India alone accounting for over 6.7 million of the estimated 8 million in the region.

The issue, as health experts in India point out, is not necessarily one of food scarcity but rather the inability of many mothers to provide appropriate feeding care to their infants. Zero-food children, defined as infants or toddlers aged between six months and 24 months who have not received any milk or solid or semisolid food over 24 hours, are still predominantly breastfed. However, breastfeeding alone becomes insufficient after six months, when children require additional nutrition.

Mothers struggle with infant feeding

Health experts in India suggest that the issue of zero-food children is not due to a lack of food access, but rather because many mothers are unable to provide proper feeding care to their infants.

Zero-food children are babies between six and 24 months without milk or solid food for a whole day. Even though most of these children were breastfed, it's not enough to meet their nutritional needs after six months. Experts highlight the need for tailored interventions to tackle this problem. They call for more research to understand the reasons behind zero food cases and the obstacles to proper child-feeding practices.

According to Dr. Vandana Prasad, many mothers struggle to provide complementary feeding due to circumstances. In households facing economic hardships, mothers juggle work and household chores, leaving little time for feeding their children.

UP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand lead; WB, Goa improve

In the previous study, Subramanian and his team estimated India's rate of zero-food children for the first time using data from 2019-2021 health surveys.

The study found that nearly 2 out of every 10 infants or toddlers in India don't get any food for a whole day, with no significant change since 2016. The percentage of zero-food children increased slightly from 17.2% in 2016 to 17.8% in 2021.

The study surveyed over 600,000 households and asked about the food intake of children aged six to 23 months in the past 24 hours. The analysis estimated around 5.9 million zero-food children in India in 2021.

States like Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand had the highest prevalence rates, while some, like West Bengal and Goa, showed improvements since 2016. Overall, the study highlights the ongoing issue of food deprivation among young children in India.

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