Malnourishment in boys up to the age five is much more than that of girls in Madhya Pradesh, recent data from the annual health survey (AHS) showed, leaving experts flummoxed since generally the rate is a bit high for girls.
The clinical, anthropometric and biochemical (CAB) survey 2014, conducted as part of the AHS by the Registrar General of India showed that in Madhya Pradesh, 51.5% children, under the age of five, are stunted (height below normal for age) and 40.6% of them are underweight (weight below normal for age).
The data showed 58.1% boys have stunted growth, while for girls the proportion is lower at 43.8%. Similarly, 49.2% boys and 30.5% girls are underweight. But, the only other national level survey on nutrition status available — the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3 of 2004-05) — had showed almost equal rates of malnourishment among boys and girls in the state.
The data is considerably different from the Rapid Survey on Children (RSoC) figures released a fortnight ago by the ministry of women and child development. This survey had put the number of stunted children, below five years of age, at 41.5% and that of underweight ones at 36.1% in the state. Gender variation in data was not released under this survey.
Experts have said that it was difficult to explain such big differences in nutritional status of girls and boys.
“This is quite odd, actually and I have not seen such high male-female differences. There is no clear biological explanation unless there are, for some reason, big age distribution differences for males versus females,” Purnima Menon, senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told Hindustan Times in an email interview.
She added, "If there are more (number of) younger females and older male children, this could change numbers. But these are dramatic differences - if I had the raw data I could check some of these technical reasons but without that, it is challenging."
Vandana Prasad, a New Delhi-based paediatrician, said the figures were surprising and requires in-depth investigation.
Local right to food activist Sachin Jain said the changes in diet consumption patterns and accessibility to packaged junk food at even rural levels are points to be analysed in the light of the recent figures.
Jain said that the variation in overall figures might be due to a difference in the methodology followed in the RSoC and AHS surveys. He, however, said that the clear point emerging from both surveys is that the figures of stunted children were quite high.
Commissioner of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) Pushpalata Singh said the state government was already focusing on the issue of malnutrition and high levels of stunting among children.
“The full meal programme for pregnant women launched in five districts recently is part of initiatives to combat the trend,” she said.