IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Discouraging numbers: On National Family Health Survey 2019-20

17th December, 2020 Editorial

Context: Early data from NFHS-5 show decline in key anthropometric and nutrition indicators.  

  • With a debilitating death toll and an economic recession, India has had among the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There is anecdotal evidence that the pandemic and lockdown measures have led to new complications related to food consumption and food security for impoverished Indians.
  • But an express indication of the possible scale of the crisis can be gleaned from the data from the newly released National Family Health Survey 2019-20 which was conducted before the pandemic and its impact.
  • The partially released early data from NFHS-5 for 22 States/Union Territories — data for U.P., M.P. Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand and Odisha are not yet out — shows a disappointing record on metrics such as child nutrition and adult anthropometric measurements, suggesting the exacerbation now of an already fraught situation.
  • NFHS-5 shows that four key metrics for the nutritional status of children declined in 2019-20 compared to levels in 2015-16 (NFHS-4) in many of the surveyed States.
  • Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal recorded an increase in the percentage of anaemic and wasted (low weight for height) children compared to even the 2005-06 survey.
  • In the key indicator of childhood stunting, there has been an increase in 13 of the 22 States/UTs in comparison to NFHS-4, with a noticeable improvement only in Bihar and Assam.
  • Even here, the reduction in stunting numbers is lower than the government’s targets.
  • Bihar has shown a promising decline of 5.4 % points in stunting, but still retains the highest percentage of stunted children (42.9%) among big States.
  • On the flip side, NFHS-5 also flags improvements in other factors that contribute to malnutrition and poor health outcomes — in access to sanitation and clean cooking fuels.
  • In indicators related to women’s well-being (with variance across States), spousal violence declined in 17 of 22 States/UTs, child marriage declined in 18, and access to bank accounts rose in all of them, compared to NFHS-4.

Way ahead:

  • But the persistence of poor anthropometric measures related to hunger and nutrition suggests that existing programmes to address them, such as POSHAN Abhiyaan, will need a push and focus to meet targets such as the 2%-point decrease in childhood stunting every year.
  • More importantly, the complications arising out of the pandemic should make the Centre and States refocus on welfare delivery as a concerted strategy to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty.
  • This is an imperative that would not just meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal targets but will also ensure the well-being of citizens in a country that showed significant promise in combining economic growth and general welfare in the last couple of decades before encountering major reversals lately.