India Is Home to 42% of the World's Underweight Children

12/10/2010 - According to a new report by the IFPRI, India is home to many of the world's hungriest children, ranking 67th in the world, as measured by the global hunger index.

According to the latest information released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the number of undernourished people in the world now stands at 1 billion.  Nearly half of all these people are children. India alone is home to 42% of the world’ underweight children under five years old.

The most vulnerable children are those living in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. India currently has a very poor global hunger index, ranking 67th in the world. This puts it ahead of Bangladesh, but below its other Asian peers like China (9th place) and Pakistan (52nd place). The global hunger index is calculated for 122 developing countries.

The global hunger index is composed of three main indicators: the prevalence of child malnutrition, the child mortality rate and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient. There are different measurements of hunger. For instance, the United Nations Development Programme defines “hunger” as the consumption of 1800 calories a day. This is the minimum amount of calories that humans need in order to maintain all normal physiological functions.

After experiencing a continual decline from 1990 to 2006, the number of hungry people in the world has increased in recent years. According to the 2010 IFPRI report, the most “extremely alarming” rates of hunger are in Burundi, Eritrea, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The DRC’s hunger index in particular has risen 65%. Most of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have either “alarming” or “serious” rates of hunger. The only countries with “alarming” rates of hunger outside these two regions are Haiti and Yemen.

In order to reduce the rate of child hunger by a third, improving access to health care and nutrition for young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mother is absolutely essential. Girls and young women of child-bearing age must be given regular access to full nutrition in order to help end the intergenerational cycle of hunger. Well-nourished mothers have safer labours and given birth to babies of a healthy birth weight.

In the words of Marie Ruel, Director of IFPRI's Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, “after age two, the negative effects of undernutrition are largely irreversible.” Ruel also noted that there is a lack of political will and governance for issues of nutrition.

The most impressive progress has been made in Southeast Asia and in Latin America. There regions have successfully cut their rates of undernutrition by 40% since 1990. Improvements have also been made in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana and Mozambique.