Earlier this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a “national shame.” He was referring to the high prevalence of under-nutrition children in the country.

And now, the “Nutrition Barometer” rates India, along with The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Yemen, as showing the weakest performance on nutrition, “with frail commitments and frail outcomes.”

Almost half India’s children are underweight and stunted, and more than

70 per cent of women and children have serious nutritional deficiencies such as anaemia, the study said, citing data from multiple sources.

In fact, India’s “spectacular economic growth” has not translated into better nutrition outcomes for many of its children, the report added.

The Nutrition Barometer was released by Save the Children and World Vision at the recently held World Economic Forum. It provides a snapshot of national governments’ commitments to child nutrition, and the progress made. It looks at 36 developing countries, home to 90 per cent of the world’s malnourished children.

Besides measuring the governments’ political and legal commitment to tackle malnutrition, the report also looks at the country’s financial commitment towards nutrition. Guatemala, Malawi and Peru, the report said, showed sound nutrition commitments, and survival outcomes.

Arvind Singhal, Chairman of Technopak Advisors, says that the low health and nutrition indicators come as no surprise, as India has a large number of people below the poverty line. The challenge gets worse as the numbers (population) increase in absolute terms. Technopak, had in a recent study, pointed out how healthcare access and delivery had reached a point of crisis in the country.

The Barometer further observed that growth in India was unequal and though millions had been lifted out of poverty, the benefits had accrued to a small segment of the population.

Children in the poorest households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those in the richest households. However, even in the wealthiest 20 per cent of the population, one child in five is undernourished, the report said.

India’s performance is based on the National Family and Health Survey, 2005-06, the report said, adding that a nationally representative survey had not been undertaken since.

Public spending on health – both as a percentage of government budget and in per capita terms – was also low, especially for a middle-income country, the report said.

There are, however, significant indications that commitment to fighting under-nutrition is strengthening, including an announcement to triple resources for the reform of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the country’s primary scheme to address child health and nutrition, the report said.

The year 2012 has been critical for action on nutrition, the report said. In

May, the World Health Assembly had adopted a resolution on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, including a target to reduce the number of stunted children by 40 per cent, by 2025.