India is making rapid strides in overcoming the problem of malnutrition, with the number of stunted children under the age of five declining by over 10 million, says a ‘Global Nutrition Report’.

The “first-ever comprehensive narrative on global health and country-level progress toward reducing malnutrition”, brought out by a consortium of nations, organisations, researchers, and academics, covers each of the United Nations’ 192 member states, and will be a “centrepiece” of the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome from November 19-21. The conference is being organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation.

“The new, provisional, national data suggest India is experiencing a much faster improvement in World Health Assembly (WHA) indicators than currently assumed,” said a statement by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The WHA targets a 45 per cent reduction in stunted children under five, and 50 per cent reduction in anaemia among women of child-bearing age by 2012, among other objectives.

Impressive Maharashtra

The report cites the case of Maharashtra, where a new State-wide survey (Haddad et al. 2014), shows that it took only seven years to reduce child stunting by one-third, from 36.5 per cent to 24 per cent, for an annual average rate of reduction of 5.8 per cent.

Stunting declines in Maharashtra resulted from a combination of nutrition-specific interventions, improved access to food and education, and reductions in poverty and fertility, says the report.

However, it notes that the world as a whole is currently not on course to meet global nutrition targets set by the WHA, and calls for extending coverage of nutrition-specific programmes, and recruiting more nutrition workers, among other recommendations.

“We need to develop targets or norms for spending on nutrition,” says the report, adding that more needs to be done to hold donors, countries and agencies accountable for meeting their commitments to improve nutrition.

“Malnutrition corrodes the body, the economy and the future. Ambitions for sustainable development are likely to be thwarted by its presence,” it adds.