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Health survey shows anaemia a concern across age groups in children, women

India News

THE LATEST National Family Health Survey (NFHS) released by the Union Health Ministry has flagged a worrying trend: an increase in anaemia across age groups, particularly among children and women.

The data in NFHS 2019-21, the fifth in the series, show that among all age groups, the highest spike in anaemia was reported among children aged 6-59 months (see box) — 67.1 per cent (NFHS-5) from 58.6 per cent (NFHS-4, 2015-16). The data show that the number was higher in rural India (68.3 per cent) compared to urban India (64.2 per cent).

This is followed by anaemia in females aged 15-19 years — 59.1 per cent (NFHS-5) from 54.1 per cent (NFHS-4). In this group, too, the number was higher in rural areas (58.7 per cent) compared to urban India (54.1 per cent).

Among pregnant women aged 15-49 years, 52.2 per cent were found to be anaemic compared to 50.4 per cent in the previous survey. But in this group, there is a stark difference between urban areas (45.7 per cent) and rural India (54.3 per cent).

The prevalence of anaemia among men, the data show, was significantly lower compared to other groups: 25 per cent in the age group of 15-49 and 31.1 per cent in the age group of 15-16.

According to NFHS-5, the country also reported a marginal improvement in two key indicators of undernutrition among children under five years — stunting and wasting.

The WHO has defined stunting as impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.

The NFHS-5 data show that 35.5 per cent of children under five years are stunted (height-for-age) as compared to 38.8 per cent reported in NFHS-4. The latest data also reveal that the percentage of stunted children is higher in rural India (37.3 per cent) when compared to urban areas (30.1 per cent).

The Health Ministry’s fact sheet released Wednesday covers 14 states and Union Territories clubbed under phase-2 of NFHS-5. The phase-1 findings of 22 states and Union Territories were released in December last year.

In the phase-2 data on stunting among children, Rajasthan (31.8 per cent) showed a 7.3 percentage point decrease followed by Uttar Pradesh (39.7 per cent) with a 6.6 percentage point decrease. However, Uttarakhand (27 per cent) and Haryana (27.5 per cent) recorded a 6.5 percentage point increase, and Madhya Pradesh (35.7 per cent) a 6.3 percentage point increase.

According to WHO, wasting among children indicates recent and severe weight loss, although it can also persist for a long time — a child found “severely wasted” has an increased risk of death but treatment is possible.

The NFHS-5 reported wasting (weight-for-height) in 19.3 per cent children under five years as compared to 21 per cent in NFHS-4. The percentage of children in this category is slightly higher in rural areas (19.5 per cent) compared to urban India (18.5 per cent).

But the data also reveal a disturbing trend: 7.7 per cent of children under five years fall in the severely wasted (weight-for-height) category as compared to 7.5 per cent in NFHS-4.

The NFHS-5 raises another red flag among children under five years: 3.4 per cent are overweight (weight-for-height), as compared to 2.1 per cent reported in NFHS-4. According to WHO, being overweight signals a form of malnutrition that results from expending too few calories for the amount of food consumed — and increases the risk of non-communicable diseases later in life.

Even as this data was released Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed Poshan Abhyaan, his Government’s flagship programme to improve nutrition for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. One of the key targets under the initiative is to reduce the prevalence of anaemia among children aged 6-59 months by 9 per cent.

The Prime Minister said the initiative should be implemented in “mission mode” in each state. He also stressed on the role of Self-Help Groups and other local organisations in promoting awareness about children’s health and nutrition at the grassroot level.

The review was undertaken during a meeting of the 39th edition of PRAGATI, the ICT based multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, involving the Central and state governments.

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