Child stunting in India

Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median. If it is three standard deviations below it is called severe stunting. 



  • Poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation: more than half of the rural population still defecates in the open making them vulnerable to various diseases. 
  • Early marriage of girls leads to their low weight at the time of Pregnancy, resulting in low birth weight of the new-borns. 
  • Due to the patriarchal nature of families, the girl child is often being ignored in families of their nutrition needs. Further, patriarchal mindset allows looking after male members only, ignoring the health of women in the family.


  • Poverty leads to chronic lack of nutritious food leading to undernutrition. Over the period of time it leads to stunting. 
  • Price rise due to inflation makes many nutritious products like milk and pulses out of reach of the poor.


  • Poor access to health services, especially in rural areas leads to any minor ailment turning into chronic disease.
  • Irregular survey and data collection. So that policy makers make substantial changes in on-going schemes.
  • Inefficient schemes- there are very few schemes available like mid-day meal And that also are performing well in some pockets but overall performance is poor. Some of the states have started Eggs in mid-day meals, but some have banned it in the name of vegetarianism.

In addition to this, there are genetic factors as well behind the high rate of stunting. Genetic makeup of Indians is different from that of western countries, so similar yardsticks cannot be used. This may be one of the reasons for showing large numbers of stunted children. The Government has accorded high priority to the issue of malnutrition and stunting in the country and is implementing several schemes under different Ministries. The details being as follows:

  • The schemes/programmes include the National Health Mission (NHM), Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Schemes for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG) namely SABLA, Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojna (IGMSY) as direct targeted interventions.
  • Indirect Multi-sectoral interventions include Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), National Horticulture Mission, National Food Security Mission. MGNREGA, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, National Rural Drinking Water Programme etc. All these schemes address one or other aspect of nutrition.
  • The specific interventions targeted towards the vulnerable groups include children below 6 years. Which have a bearing on nutritional status includes the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme which provides a package of six services namely supplementary nutrition, pre-school non-formal education. nutrition & health education, immunization, health check-up and referral services 
  • Promotion of appropriate infant and young child feeding practices that include early initiation of breastfeeding. 
  • Management of malnutrition and common neonatal and childhood illnesses community and facility level by training service providers.
  • Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres (NRCSs) are being set up at public health facilities Presently 875 such centres are functional all over the country. 
  • Specific program to prevent and combat micronutrient deficiencies of Vitamin A and Iron & Folic Acid (IFA) in under-five children, children of 5 to 10 years of age, and adolescents.

To address the issue, the government has started several major programmes. These programmes need to be implemented in the right manner to achieve a healthy childhood for our children.

Practice question-

Discuss various reasons behind the high rate of child stunting in India. In this context, enumerate some of the steps taken by the government to improve child healthcare.

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