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40 percent Indian children are underweight, says global index


New Delhi : Over 40 percent of children in India are underweight, says this year’s Global Hunger Index, which finds that South Asia now has higher levels of hunger than sub-Saharan Africa. India ranks 65th on the index, with Democratic Republic of Congo at the bottom – 84th.

Released Wednesday on the eve of World Food Day by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and NGOs Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, the index says 29 countries have alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger, and 13 have seen increases in their hunger levels since 1990.

The index ranks countries on prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient — and combines them into one score. Data used in the index come from 2007 and earlier years.

The low score of South Asia is due to widespread child malnutrition, an IFPRI spokesman said. “In Bangladesh and India, more than 40 percent of children are underweight.”

The institute’s senior research fellow Agnes Quisumbing said: “Women’s educational level and status or power relative to men’s in households and communities significantly affect children’s nutrition.

“In South Asia, women’s low social status and limited access to schooling have dire consequences for the nutrition, health, and wellbeing of both mothers and their children.”

To better assess the links between hunger and gender inequality, IFPRI compared the index rankings to the World Economic Forum’s 2008 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures the wellbeing of women relative to men.

Countries with the most severe hunger problems also had high levels of gender inequality. IFPRI research shows that equalizing men’s and women’s status would reduce the number of malnourished children by 13.4 million in South Asia and by 1.7 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Knowing that hunger and gender inequality go hand-in-hand, an important step to ending world hunger is empowering women and eradicating gender disparities in education, health, economic participation, and political opportunities,” said Joachim von Braun, IFPRI director general.