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2015-07-07 15:38:53

Food price spikes ‘linked with rising malnutrition among Indian children’

An international study says spikes in food prices during the last global recession are associated with a higher risk of malnutrition among Indian children. The researchers examined the proportion of children who experienced “wasting” (i.e. thinness), a widely used measure of malnutrition that shows a child has a lower than expected weight given their height (based on World Health Organization standards). They observed progress in child nutrition between 2002 and 2006 when the proportion of wasted children in (undivided) Andhra Pradesh fell slightly from 19% to 18%. However, this improvement had reversed by 2009 when 28% of children were wasting – an increase of 10 percentage points compared with 2006. This was after high inflation in food prices, beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2009. The research paper is published in the online version of the Journal of Nutrition.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Public Health Foundation of India and the University of Oxford, with a team from Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They focused on the effect of food prices on child nutrition in the Andhra Pradesh, one of India”s largest states, using data from the Young Lives project based at Oxford University. The researchers have used survey data from a sample of 1,918 children from poor, middle-income, and wealthy households living in the state, since 2002 for a longitudinal study of child poverty.

The research team combined weight and height of children measurements from the Young Lives data with official government data on household level expenditure and consumption patterns of food from the Indian National Sample Survey Office and the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau in order to calculate how much children ate across food categories. The researchers found that food consumption of children dropped significantly between 2006 and 2009 as food prices increased. There were corresponding increases in wasting among children from poor and middle-income households, but not high-income households between 2006 and 2009. The paper suggests this supports the theory that poorer households have the smallest food reserves and are therefore hardest hit by rising food prices.

The researchers examined interview data from each household on food expenditure based on 15-day periods in 2006 and 2009 across eight food categories (rice, wheat, legumes, meat, fish, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables). To examine the rise in food prices, the researchers used monthly price records collected by the Government of India.
Lead author of the study Dr Sukumar Vellakkal, Public Health Foundation of India, said: “Our findings suggest that poorer households face the greatest risk of malnutrition, in spite of the Public Distribution System, which provides subsidised food to a large proportion of the population. Better targeting of food security policies may be necessary to meet the needs of India”s most vulnerable households.”

Dr Vellakkal added that the remarkable economic growth of India in the last decade had not translated in to betterment of children nutrition status because of the rising food prices, we need specific policies help to ensure the affordability of food in the context of higher food prices for promoting nutrition of children.

Study co-author Dr Jasmine Fledderjohann, of the University of Oxford, said: “Our findings show a sharp increase in wasting associated with food price spikes. It is possible that this rise would have been even greater without governmental programmes like the Public Distribution Scheme or the Midday Meal Scheme, which provides free meals to school children. It is important to recognise that households may try a number of strategies to cope with rising food prices, such as going without, or switching to low-cost alternatives. More detailed research is needed in this area.”



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