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Prioritising nutrition in order to achieve the MDGs in India

Malnutrition causes long-term damage to children’s development, with huge social and economic costs. It affects not only children’s physical development but also their cognitive development, so reducing future productivity and leading ultimately to economic loss for the nation as a whole. India has recorded strong economic growth in recent years but has shown little progress in tackling malnutrition. It is evident that economic growth alone will not solve the malnutrition problem and sustaining growth will require human capital development. Young Lives research suggests that there has been very little improvement over the last decade in children’s nutritional status and demonstrates the impact of malnutrition on children’s later development. Strengthening services and social protection schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services, the Public Distribution System and the Midday Meal Scheme are important elements of securing better nutrition for children and will support progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Analysis of Young Lives data offers a number of challenges to prevailing assumptions about orphans
and vulnerability.

  • despite its high rate of economic growth, India is home to the largest number of malnourished children in any one country in the world.
  • malnutrition has long-term consequences for children. Stunting caused by malnutrition in early life is linked to many child development indicators (including literacy, self-confidence and educational aspirations).
  • Young Lives research shows that the problem of stunting has become increasingly concentrated in the poorest households.
  • high food prices can have both short- and long- term effects on children’s nutritional status. Government policies can buffer families from these shocks.
  • programmes such as the Public Distribution Scheme help ensure food security for families but need to be strengthened.