UPSC MAINS 2019 : Malnutrition Crisis

Malnutrition Crisis

Topic : Malnutrition Crisis

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1: Indian Society



Malnutrition Crisis

According to the ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019’ report authored by the Government of India and the United Nations World Food Programme malnutrition amongst children in India is projected to remain high, despite all the progress made in food security.



What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight) inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related non-communicable diseases.


Reasons for Malnutrition In India.

It is unfortunate that even after 70 years of independence, hundreds of millions of Indian citizens are vulnerable to hunger and desperation. It once again forces us to ask why despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remains high. 

  • United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) , paints a picture of hunger and malnutrition amongst children in large pockets of India.
  • Over the last 20 years, total food grain production in India increased from 198 million tonnes to 269 million tonnes.
  • Despite increase in food production, the rate of malnutrition in India remains very high.
  • In the food basket, it turns out that in both urban and rural areas, the share of expenditure on cereal and cereal substitutes has declined between 1972-73 and 2011-12, from 57% to 25% in rural areas and from 36% to 19% in urban areas.
  • The energy and protein intake from cereals has decreased in both rural and urban India, largely because of increased consumption of other food items such as milk and dairy products, oils and fat and relatively unhealthy food such as fast food, processed food, and sugary beverages.
  • The consumption of unhealthy energy and protein sources is much higher in urban areas.
  • The report shows the poorest sections of society caught in a trap of poverty and malnutrition, which is being passed on from generation to generation.
  • Mothers who are hungry and malnourished produce children who are stunted, underweight and unlikely to develop to achieve their full human potential.
  • The effects of malnourishment in a small child are not merely physical.
  • A developing brain that is deprived of nutrients does not reach its full mental potential.
  • Undernutrition can affect cognitive development by causing direct structural damage to the brain and by impairing infant motor development.
  • This in turn affects the child’s ability to learn at school, leading to a lifetime of poverty and lack of opportunity.
  • These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
  • The findings in the report are not new; many studies over the last 5 years have exposed the failure of the Indian state to ensure that its most vulnerable citizens are provided adequate nutrition in their early years.


Measures taken by Government

  • POSHAN Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission – NNM) aims to reduce the level of stunting, under-nutrition, anemia and low birth weight babies.
  • Under POSHAN Abhiyaan, the Government has fixed targets to reduce stunting, under-nutrition, anemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and reduce low birth weight by 2%, 2%, 3% and 2% per annum respectively.
  • The mission also strives to achieve reduction in Stunting from 38.4% (NFHS-4) to 25% by 2022 (Mission 25 by 2022).
  • A single unified technical set-up, namely a National Nutrition Resource Centre – Central Project Management Unit (NNRC-CPMU) at the national level and similarly State Nutrition Resource Centre – State Project Management Unit (SNRC-SPMU) in all States/ UTs ensures regular monitoring and review of all sectoral programmes especially those directly affecting malnutrition.
  • Monitoring is done under POSHAN Abhiyaan through ICDS-CAS aimed to augment system strengthening including improving the coverage and quality of nutrition services.
  • The ICDS-CAS has two components, namely the mobile application which is made available to the field functionaries pre-loaded on mobile phones and a six tier monitoring dashboard for desktops. The software allows the capture of data from the field on electronic devices (mobile/tablet).
  • It enables collection of information on ICDS service delivery and its impact on nutrition outcomes in beneficiaries on a regular basis.
  • The ICDS-CAS dashboard facilitates Nutrition outcome oriented monitoring triggered by mapping of weighment efficiency, height and nutrition status of children under-five years.
  • The service delivery to children, pregnant women and lactating mothers can be monitored through the software application dashboard.


Results of National Nutrition Mission:

  • Some progress has been made in reducing the extent of malnutrition.
  • The proportion of children with chronic malnutrition decreased from 48% percent in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16.
  • The percentage of underweight children decreased from 42.5% to 35.7% over the same period.
  • Anaemia in young children decreased from 69.5% to 58.5% during this period. But this progress is small.


Challenges related to National Nutrition Mission

  • Lack of coordination between various ministries affects the programme’s implementation.
  • The scheme also suffers from under-utilisation of allocated funds.
  • Till now, State and Union Territory governments have only used 16% of the funds allocated to them.
  • Lack of real-time data monitoring, sustainability and accountability also impact the National Nutrition Mission (NNM).
  • Anganwadis are key to the distribution of services to mothers and children. But many States, including Bihar and Odisha, which have large vulnerable populations, are struggling to set up functioning anganwadis, and recruit staff.
  • The Mission does not have differential approach to the issue of malnutrition, more focus is needed on the areas where malnutrition levels are comparatively high.
    • For example- the highest levels of stunted and underweight children are found in Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • Fortified rice and milk were to be introduced in one district per State by March this year, but officials in charge of public distribution had not yet got their act together.
  • The matter is under active consideration of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution”.


Way Forward

Key recommendations of the ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019’ report can be followed by India to curb the challenge of malnutrition.


Key Recommendations

  • Farmers should be encouraged and incentivised for agricultural diversification.
  • Innovative and low-cost farming technologies, increase in the irrigation coverage and enhancing knowledge of farmers in areas such as appropriate use of land and water should be encouraged to improve the sustainability of food productivity.
  • The government should improve policy support for improving agricultural produce of traditional crops in the country.
  • Storage capacity should be improvedto prevent post-harvest losses.
  • The targeting efficiency of all food safety nets should be improved,especially that of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), to ensure that the poorest are included.
    • In addition,fortification of government-approved commodities within the social safety net programmes can improve nutritional outcomes.
  • Child feeding practices should be improvedin the country, especially at the critical ages when solid foods are introduced to the diet.
    • Fortification, diversification and supplementation may be used as simultaneous strategies to address micro and macronutrient deficiencies.
  • There is a need for more robust measures that can take cognizance of all aspects of SDG 2 which seeks to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition.
  • All the major welfare programmes need to be gender sensitive.



As Amartya Sen noted, famines are caused not by shortages of food, but by inadequate access to food. For the poor and marginalised, access to food is impeded by social, administrative and economic barriers.


Sample Question

Despite rapid economic growth andthe progress made in food security.malnutrition in India  remains high.Discuss the reasons and challenges associated with the high level of malnutrition in India?



Malnutrition Crisis infograph