Chronic Malnutrition Trapped within two Concentric Cycles
India’s malnutrition is firmly trapped between two cycles - the Intergenerational Cycle of Malnutrition and the Cycle of Calorie, Protein and Micronutrient Deficit, (CPMD) and Poverty. (Appendix)
The Intergenerational Cycle of Malnutrition firmly binds low birth weight babies, stunted, underweight or wasted children, anaemic, underweight adolescent girls who become malnourished mothers and again give birth to low birth weight babies, perpetuating the cycle of malnutrition.
Simply put, this is how it works. A new born with low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) has a high risk of dying in early infancy. On survival, deprivation of colostrum, a rich source of nutrients and the first administration of antibodies for developing immunity increases the neonate’s risk to infection. Lack of exclusive breast feeding for the first six months, delayed and inadequate complementary feeding beyond 6 months further stunts growth. Complementary food prepared in an unhygienic environment leads to infections and diarrhoea. Poverty, lack of information and superstition are factors that can account for these negative nutritional practices. These are more pronounced towards a girl child as she is likely to face discrimination from within and outside the family even in matters relating to intra-food distribution, health care and access to education. As an adolescent she is most likely to be malnourished and anaemic, with a below normal body mass index (BMI). She will probably be married before 18 years of age, and have quick, repeated pregnancies. Her weight gain during pregnancy will be inadequate, the foetus will suffer from Intrauterine Growth Retardation and be born a low birth weight baby.
The other vicious Concentric Cycle of Calorie, Protein and Micronutrient Deficit, (CPMD) and Poverty afflicts at least 30% of India’s households, cutting across all age groups. Evidence indicates that per capita calorie consumption for rural India has not improved in spite of economic growth.
This cycle has an extremely negative impact both on the quality of human resources and their capabilities and on economic growth. CPMD leads to low working capacity among adults and consequently low income generation, morbidity, lower resistance to infectious diseases and capacity to recover from illness, and causes low productivity and earning capacity in adults. Among children, it reduces physical/ cognitive growth and learning capability, causes morbidity and mortality, added health care costs to families or the State, and in all probability such children who reach adulthood will again be entrapped in the concentric cycles of malnutrition and poverty.