Published: 25th November 2021
Red warning: Anaemia spikes reported in children, women in the latest National Family Health Survey
The Health Ministry’s fact sheet released on November 24 covers 14 states and Union Territories clubbed under phase-2 of NFHS-5. The phase-1 findings were released in December last year
India is seeing an increase in anaemia across age groups, particularly among children and women. This alarming statistic is seen in the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) released by the Union Health Ministry on November 24. The data in NFHS 2019-21, the fifth in the series, show that among all age groups, the highest spike in anaemia was reported among children aged 6 to 59 months — 67.1 per cent (NFHS-5) from 58.6 per cent (NFHS-4, 2015-16). The data shows that the number was higher in rural India (68.3 per cent) compared to urban India (64.2 per cent).
This is followed by anaemia in females aged 15 to 19 years — 59.1 per cent (NFHS-5) from 54.1 per cent (NFHS-4). In this group, too, the number was higher in rural areas (58.7 per cent) compared to urban India (54.1 per cent).
The prevalence of anaemia, according to NFHS 5, among men was significantly lower compared to other groups: 25 per cent in the age group of 15 to 49 and 31.1 per cent in the age group of 15 to 16.
Status of malnutrition
According to NFHS-5, the country also reported a marginal improvement in two key indicators of undernutrition among children under five years — stunting and wasting. The WHO has defined stunting as impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.
The NFHS-5 data show that 35.5 per cent of children under five years are stunted (height-for-age) as compared to 38.8 per cent reported in NFHS-4. The latest data also reveals that the percentage of stunted children is higher in rural India (37.3 per cent) when compared to urban areas (30.1 per cent).
The Health Ministry’s fact sheet released on November 24 covers 14 states and Union Territories clubbed under phase-2 of NFHS-5. The phase-1 findings of 22 states and Union Territories were released in December last year.
In the phase-2 data on stunting among children, Rajasthan (31.8 per cent) showed a 7.3 percentage point decrease followed by Uttar Pradesh (39.7 per cent) with a 6.6 percentage point decrease. However, Uttarakhand (27 per cent) and Haryana (27.5 per cent) recorded a 6.5 percentage point increase and Madhya Pradesh (35.7 per cent) a 6.3 percentage point increase.
According to WHO, wasting among children indicates recent and severe weight loss, although it can also persist for a long time — a child found “severely wasted” has an increased risk of death but treatment is possible.
The NFHS-5 reported wasting (weight-for-height) in 19.3 per cent of children under five years as compared to 21 per cent in NFHS-4. The percentage of children in this category is slightly higher in rural areas (19.5 per cent) compared to urban India (18.5 per cent).
But the data also reveal a disturbing trend, a total of 7.7 per cent of children under five years fall in the severely wasted (weight-for-height) category as compared to 7.5 per cent in NFHS-4.
The NFHS-5 raises another red flag among children under five years -- 3.4 per cent are overweight (weight-for-height), as compared to 2.1 per cent reported in NFHS-4. According to WHO, being overweight signals a form of malnutrition that results from expending too few calories for the amount of food consumed — and increases the risk of non-communicable diseases later in life.