The government is contemplating adopting the new World Health Organisation standards on child growth that can help improve India's poor rating on the global child nourishment index. Indian children have been rated even worse than children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Women and Child Development Secretary Deep Jain Singh said the decision will be taken after the two-day national workshop that started on Thursday. Representatives of state governments, Ministries of Health and Family Welfare and WCD; UNICEF and WHO are participating in the workshop. Singh said there was a need to deliberate on switching over from existing standards — adopted in the mid-seventies — to another classification so that growth monitoring data from the Integrated Child Development Scheme is not at variance with the underweight prevalence revealed by other international reports.
Dr Mercedes De Onis of WHO said the new standards are based on a six-month breastfeeding mandate as against the earlier norm of artificial food supplement since childbirth. "The 1970 standards were based on a study on American children of English origin and did not reflect the true global picture," she admitted.
It took WHO 17 years to devise new standards based on simultaneous studies in six countries — including India, Brazil, Ghana, the US and Oman. Over 300 newborns breastfed for six month in rich, educated south Delhi were identified for the study by the Society for Applies Studies. "Their growth was tabulated for three years; that was India's input for the new standards," said Dr Nita Bhandari, who supervised the study.
WCD officials feel the new standards will reflect the achievements of the ICDS. But a survey by The Right to Food Campaign in six states shows the scheme to be in tatters. The report, distributed at the workshop, has found the participation of children from deprived sections (OBC, Muslim, SC/ST) to be lower than from the general category due to caste discrimination by anganwadi workers.