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Not only does stunting impair growth, it impairs earnings too

Copyright: <a href=''>rasika108 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
A malnourished boy sits on the streets of Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh. Malnutrition is a prominent risk factor for stunting.

Stunting during childhood reduces earnings later in life, in bad news for the millions of Indian children who suffer from the condition.

Stunting refers to when a child is not tall enough for their age. The condition is generally caused by malnutrition or repeated infections. Prevalence of the condition in India is high, affecting 38.4 percent of children (though in some districts the figure can be as high as 65.1 percent).

Stunting during infancy is linked to a range of poor health indicators in later life, including poor educational performance. This may account for the newly released statistic that 66 percent of working Indians experience lower wages because of stunting. Workers who were stunted as children earn, on average, thirteen percent less than they should. This has a knock-on effect which is deleterious to India’s economy as a whole, warns the World Bank.

India’s proportion of workers who were stunted as children the third highest amount lost in the world, after Bangladesh and Afghanistan where 73 and 67 percent of workers were stunted as children and earn less as a result.

A toilet block. Poor sanitation is another significant risk factor stunting.

“66 percent of working Indians experience lower wages because of stunting.

The good news is that stunting is on the decline in India. In 2014, 38.7 percent of children were stunted compared to 62.7 percent 26 years prior. However, with roughly one in three Indian children still stunted today, it is clear that further action needs to be taken.

This necessitates taking steps to address the country’s shockingly high levels of childhood malnutrition. UNICEF describes India’s high level of stunting as “a manifestation of chronic undernutrition” – a salient warning in the face of the grim statistic that India is home to the most malnourished children in the world. 39 percent of India’s children are underweight. Just ten percent consume an adequate diet.

Improving sanitation coverage is also necessary. With the absence of toilets in several regions of the country, many Indians practise open defecation. Almost sixty percent of people who defecate in the open do so in India. In communities where this is commonplace, there are increased rates of diarrhoeal diseases – India’s most common infectious disease – and other communicable conditions. Such diseases are a risk factor for stunting.

India has come some way in reducing its prevalence of stunting but, as statistics reflect, it has not necessarily come far enough. Further improvements are necessary – both for the health of its children and the economic security of its workers.

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