After 15 years, child stunting has risen in four NE States

Neha Saigal and Saumya Shrivastava
Stunting among children aged below five has increased in four North Eastern Indian States, a trend not observed in the region over the last 15 years, according to the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, 2019-’20, released in December 2020.
Stunting, or low height for age, is a well-established risk marker for poor development among children. Stunting before the age of two, in particular, has significant economic and educational consequences at the individual, household and community levels. A 1% loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with 1.4% loss in economic productivity, according to a World Bank-supported study. It is estimated that stunted children earn 20% less as adults.
All North Eastern States except Arunachal Pradesh were among the 22 States and Union Territories covered in Phase 1 of the National Family Health Survey-5. Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura saw an increase in stunting among children, and Assam, Manipur and Sikkim saw a decline. These trends are in contrast with findings of earlier National Family Health Surveys, where all North Eastern States had seen a decline in stunting levels.
Causes for the varying performance in addressing stunting will become clearer when National Family Health Survey-5 reports on disaggregated data on access to services and releases indicators for different social groups later this year.
Diverse demographics and socio-cultural practices impact child and maternal health within and between States in the North East, one study shows. Tribal communities in remote areas in the more sparsely populated States have a high prevalence of childhood malnutrition due to limited access to basic amenities including healthcare.
Our analysis of the available data from the National Family Health Survey-5 also found that the four States which saw an increase in stunting performed poorly on women’s well-being indicators, with relatively higher percentages of women having body mass index below normal and low levels of education.
In contrast, the States with the lowest proportion of stunted children all perform better on women’s well-being indicators. Indicators of women’s well-being explain the difference between low and high stunting districts in India, studies show.
States’ performance on other factors influencing stunting was mixed. For instance, Sikkim, which saw a decline in stunting, also saw decline in infant and young child feeding practices and women’s access to healthcare. Meghalaya, which has the highest stunting levels, saw factors like young child feeding practices and women’s access to healthcare improvement.
So what explains Sikkim’s better performance in reducing stunting ? Good governance, experts told us.
(To be contd)