The dichotomy between wealth and malnutrition continues to be stark in Gujarat. A prosperous state that drives an entrepreneurial culture and demonstrates leadership in industrial development would be embarrassed — and that’s putting it gently — to read these numbers. The National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) findings on Gujarat, released in 2022 revealed that over 9.7% of children below five years were underweight.
The government had taken initiatives to tackle malnutrition across the country with schemes like Poshan Abhiyan, Matritva Sahyog Yojana, Integrated Child Development Services, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, National Nutrition Mission, National Food Security Mission, and National Nutrition Strategy. Only last year, the state government informed the Assembly that Gujarat had 1,25,707 malnourished children in 30 districts and steps would be taken to improve the situation. But, as Gujarat’s malnutrition data suggests, changes are yet to reflect on the horizon.
Additionally, the state ranked fourth in stunting (short height compared to age) and second worst in wasting (the body becomes progressively weak) among the major states. The Nextias.com reports: “Assam, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have stunted children higher than the national average of 35.5%.”
According to the study, four major districts with urban populations — Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, and Rajkot — experienced a sharper increase in stunting, wasting, severe malnutrition, and underweight cases compared to some of the tribal districts during the period of 2015-16 to 2020-21. The issue was examined by analysing changes between the two rounds of the NFHS survey.
It emerged that the prevalence of anaemia in children rose by 17% across Gujarat in five years and 12% among young girls.
Somen Saha, a professor at IIPH-G, said providing suggestions to address the issue was the aim. “We have proposed several measures, including declaring anaemia and malnutrition as public health challenges, focusing on non-iron deficiency anaemia, establishing a nutrition intelligence unit based on comprehensive data and analytics, identifying high-priority talukas, developing sub-district action plans and targeted strategies, and implementing predictive modelling,” he said.
The study titled Nutritional Indicators for Gujarat, Its Determinants and Recommendations: A Comparative Study of National Family Health Survey-4 and National Family Health Survey-5 was published in the Cureus journal. The research was conducted by Jimeet Soni, Faisal Sheikh, Somen Saha, and Deepak Saxena from the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) Gandhinagar, along with Mayur Wanjari from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Wardha. The analysis also outlined aspects such as improvements in post-delivery care and early childhood care.