Fifth NFHS shows malnutrition and obesity on the rise
The ministry of health and family welfare released the first set of findings from the fifth and the latest round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), conducted in 2019-20, on Saturday. The survey has been conducted after a gap of about three years. The first set of findings has been released for only 22 states and Union territories, which together are home to almost half of the country’s population. It includes big states such as Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal, but does not include the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The data collection for the survey was reportedly suspended in May due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the final report with data for all states is expected to be ready in another six months.
Increased malnutrition among children
The most alarming finding from the latest NFHS is on child nutrition. NFHS 4, which was conducted in 2015-16, had recorded a drop in child malnutrition levels. These gains seem to have been reversed, the NFHS 5 findings show. The share of children who were stunted (low height for their age) increased in 13 states, while the share of children who had low weight for their height increased in 12 states.
The share of underweight and overweight children also increased in 16 and 20 states, respectively. These four are common indicators of undernutrition and malnutrition among children. To be sure, another indicator, under-five mortality rate (refers to the probability of dying between birth and five years of age expressed per 1,000 live births), decreased in 18 of the 22 states for which the data has been released.
More Indians are obese and anaemic
The latest round of the survey reported an increased share of men and women who were overweight or obese. Share of obese men increased in 19 of the 22 states and Union territories for which the data was available. The share of obese women increased in 16. Among major states and UTs, the share of obese women increased the most in Karnataka, by 6.8 percentage points, and the share of obese men increased the most in Jammu and Kashmir, by 11.1 percentage points. To be sure, the share of underweight men and women decreased in this period in most states.
The share of Indians with anaemia, a condition in which a person lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body tissues and can make a person feel tired and weak, also increased between the latest two rounds of the survey in a majority of the states. Some states experienced a very significant rise of anaemic people, such as in Assam, where the share of anaemic women increased by 20 percentage points. Among major states, the share of anaemic men and women was the highest in West Bengal, while Gujarat had the highest share of anaemic children.
Better household amenities
The share of households having access to some basic amenities, some of them promoted under various flagship schemes of the government, has increased in most of the states between the latest two rounds of the survey, which also roughly match the beginning and the end of Narendra Modi-led government’s first tenure. The share of the population living in households with electricity increased in 19 states; the share of the population living in households with improved sources of drinking-water increased in 20 states; the share of the population living in households with improved sanitation facilities increased in 21 states; and the share of households using clean cooking fuel increased in all 22 states and UTs. Median values of these indicators from all states for which the data was given show a significant rise in households with improved sanitation or toilet facilities and those using clean cooking fuel. But the figures also suggest that a lot more needs to be done.
For instance, more than a quarter of the population (median value) still uses unclean fuel despite the government’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana overshooting its target of giving 80 million free liquified petroleum gas connections to poor households. Similarly, data from the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission shows that all of India’s households have access to a toilet, but the latest survey data shows that a quarter of the population lives in households (median value) that do not have an exclusively used improved toilet, though they may be using a facility common to multiple households.