Research Highlight

Lockdown may have aggravated child undernutrition in India

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.131 Published online 29 August 2020

In the wake of COVID-19, the lockdown across India has disrupted all state-run programmes that deliver nutritious diets to poor children, possibly aggravating child undernutrition in the country, an international research team has found1.

This disruption, the researchers say, is likely to undo the progress achieved since the launch of the National Nutrition Mission (POSHAN Abhiyaan) of India in 2018.

India is home to about 77 million undernourished children. To assess the possible impact of the lockdown and similar disruptions on such children, scientists from the US-based Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies, and the Indian Institute of Health Management Research University in Jaipur, India, analysed information on height and weight of 58,330 poor children from the National Family Health Survey data collected in 2015 and 2016.

The researchers, including William Joe from the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, found that exposure to prolonged hunger, with the possible weight reduction of about 5 per cent among poor children, would add new cases of 4,393,178 underweight and 5,140,936 severely underweight children in India.

During lockdown, schools in 80 per cent of villages in Madhya Pradesh had completely stopped providing mid-day meals. Such a situation, they report, would account for additional underweight and wasting cases among children in the poorest families in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.  

The lockdown, believed to have disrupted delivery of dietary supplements to pregnant and lactating mothers as well, might also affect the nutrition of children within the first 1,000 days of their lives, says Harvard researcher S. V. Subramanian.


References

1. Rajpal, S. et al. Living on the edge? Sensitivity of child undernutrition prevalence to bodyweight shocks in the context of the 2020 national lockdown strategy in India. J. Glob. Health. Sci. (2020) doi: 10.35500/jghs.2020.2.e19