For all those complaining about India's deteriorating nutrition and health conditions, here's some good news at last: According to the Indian Academy of Paediatricians' (IAP) revised growth chart for the ideal height, weight and body mass index (BMI) of children aged between five and 18 years, Indian kids have registered a marked increase in all three parameters. The chart reveals that the average height of an 18-year-old Indian boy increased by 2.8 cm between 1989 (the last time when any such data was collected) and 2014. The height of girls, however, only grew by 1 cm in this period.
The figures suggest an increase in weight as well: While 18-year-old boys in India are now heavier by seven to 10 kg, the corresponding figure for a girl child only shows a five-kg increase.
The new charts are based on the IAP's study of 33,991 children living in 14 Indian cities. The last such chart was made in 2007, using data collected in 1989. These charts are used as a standard to determine the ideal height and weight of children, and also detect malnutrition and general health indicators.
Paediatricians have called the revised growth chart an important development. "The chart is a result of extensively published review studies on the subject, and extensive data collected from across the country, which makes it all the more important," said Dr Nitin Shah, paediatrician and past president of IAP, under whom the first chart was published in 2007.
There is, however, a catch: childhood obesity rates are also growing in the country.
"Recent studies from India on obesity among children have shown that not only is there a rise in the incidence of overweight and obesity, but adiposity - excessive fat around the abdominal region - too is seen at a younger age. The pattern of growth in children has changed and hence we urgently need to update Indian growth charts," said the guideline accentuating the need for a revised growth chart.
However, an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Monday questioned whether the new chart can help stem rise in childhood obesity. The new height and weight charts show that children at all ages are taller and heavier than their 2007 counterparts. Both boys and girls show improvement in final height: by about 1 cm in girls and 2 cm in boys, on average, with girls being taller by 2.5 cm and boys by about 4 cm. Similarly, weights have also gone up.
"Given the time gap between the last data gathering and now, a lot of changes have taken place in the environment, food patterns and other factors that influence growth," said Dr Samir Dalwai, paediatrician. "Besides, India is not homogenous population, and therefore it becomes all the more important that there is country specific reference," added Dr Dalwai.