India Interior

Are boys fed better than girls?

Tina Edwin | Updated on January 20, 2018

Empty promise File photo of a malnourished child at a relief centre REUTERS

Six districts in AP and Telangana tell the story of nutrition and gender bias

Consider two sets of appalling nutrition-linked realities in India. One, almost half the children under five years of age are stunted and two, most Indian girls and women are generally anaemic.

Given India’s poverty level, the stunting is not surprising. Anaemia among girls and women is also linked to cultural issues. Across the country, boys and men have had the first right to food in a household, and that practice continues. Even now, in many parts of the country, girls are given food only after their male siblings have eaten, and often they get to eat much less nutritious food than their brothers.

A recent study, part of Young Lives research, an international four-nation longitudinal study of childhood poverty in association with Oxford University, finds that in India nutritional disparity based on gender becomes more pronounced at the age of 15. At ages five, eight and 12, the disparity is far lower, and at 12, when girls are going through puberty, nutritional disparity is in their favour. But everything changes with the onset of puberty in boys, which happens after 13 years of age, compared to 11 for girls.

At 15 years, a pro-boy gap is seen for almost half of a food group. Boys’ advantage in dietary quality is mostly driven by the consumption of protein- and vitamin-rich foods, such as eggs, legumes, root vegetables, meat and fruit. The pro-boy gap is particularly marked among adolescents with ‘academically aspiring’ caregivers.

In comparison, at 15 years, girls are systematically less likely to consume protein-rich foods such as legumes, eggs and meat, and vitamin-rich foods such as fruit and roots as compared to when they were five years old.

The Young Lives study over 15 years has collected data in 2006, 2009 and 2013 on two cohorts of children in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The study covers the six districts of Cuddapah, Anantapur, Mahabubnagar, Karimnagar, West Godavari, Srikakulam and the city of Hyderabad.

Young Lives is an international study of childhood poverty following the changing lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam. The study is unique in that it directly links the evidence-base of research to policymakers and planners, both in the study countries and internationally. The collaborative research project is coordinated by a team based at the University of Oxford and led by Professor Jo Boyden.

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Published on May 06, 2016
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