South Asian Enigma: Why has high economic growth not reduced malnutrition?


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South Asia has the highest rates of malnutrition and the largest numbers of undernourished children in the world! Poverty is often the underlying cause of child malnutrition, and while South Asia has recently experienced impressive economic growth and reduced poverty, this has not translated into improved nutrition. The region fares worse than any other developing region including Sub-Saharan Africa (45% vs. 28%, respectively). There is an urgent need to tackle the severe malnutrition situation in South Asia.

The World Bank is engaging with civil society and grassroots organizations to share their innovative ideas and experiences on improving nutrition among the poor in South Asia with a focus on what works in combating malnutrition.

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June 16, 2009

Child malnutrition is the most pressing problem of the world, damaging to both children and nations. The high levels of undernutrition in children and women in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa pose a major challenge for child survival. The examples of Thailand, Vietnam and China show that the problem of malnourishment is entirely preventable.

July 05, 2009

Nutrition education can be helpful. Poor people (and middle class people, and rich people) spend much on poor nutrition foods, and not enough on vegetables and pulses, but vegetables can be grown in the households for children (especially in rural areas), and need not be overcooked. Milk is expensive. The high growth may not have reached poor nutrition families in rural areas, and those who migrate to high growth cities, e.g. rickshaw pullers, face higher prices and/or money delusion (the price of this vegetable is so high here, in my village it was only ...).

March 09, 2009

Poverty is one of the major problems of every country that is still unsolved and seems like it is getting worse. Nowadays the world is in the midst of global financial crisis and it has already resulted loss of jobs to millions of people in United States. The stock market has been in a tailspin for months. Every stock market or stock exchange in the world has seen massive stock loss over the last few months. Many people are on the verge of panic. Since the stock losses have been so heavy, many people are fearful that any investment in the current climate would an exercise in futility, despite convention wisdom that any investment now would pay off once the economy recovers. Still, it begs the question of just where all the money went when the stock market tumbled.

May 09, 2009

In order to reduce malnutrition, one must understand its causes. The immediate determinants of a child’s nutritional status are the child’s dietary intake and health. These, in turn, are influenced by three household-level underlying determinants: food security, adequate care for mothers and children, and a proper health environment. Finally, the underlying determinants are influenced by the basic determinants: the potential resources available to a country or community, and a host of political, cultural, and social factors that affect their utilization. The study focuses on the underlying determinants, using four variables to represent them: national food availability (for food security), women’s education and women’s status relative to men’s (for the quality of care), and access to safe water (for the quality of the health environment). It also explores two basic determinants, using per capita national income to capture the availability of resources in a country and democracy as an indicator of the political context that influences malnutrition.

April 02, 2009

Child malnutrition is the most pressing problem of the world, damaging to both children and nations.The high levels of undernutrition in children and women in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa pose a major challenge for child survival and development. The examples of Thailand, Vietnam and China show that the problem of malnourishment is entirely preventable.

Beth A. Miller
July 08, 2009

"High economic growth" doesn't tell us a thing about distribution, or if wealth remains concentrated.

And the gender data reminds us that even if a poor family's income increases, that increase will only be spent on food if the women have some control over it. Income earned by women is likely spent on food, while income earned by men is more likely spent on housing, schooling or entertainment.

Remember that adult men in SE asia are fed first in the family, and when adequately fed themselves, they may not know if the children are malnourished. Therefore, nutrition education must engage fathers as well as mothers.

Gender equity means improved communication within families, as well as more equitable distribution of food and other resources.

Clarence Maloney
July 10, 2009

The whole population is not brought along in the development process, as has happened in South Korea, Japan, Eastern European countries, Thailand etc. A big reason is LANGUAGE. When the "elite" get educated in English, and scientific and even agricultural sciences are conducted in that language, and the schools in the people's languages are neglected, the result is a growing class gulf. There are 7 languages in India with more speakers than French- but what is their output in modern thought and science? Either the social gulf will widena as more people pride themselves in English education, or the States will take the bull by the horns and in the interest of democracy and development, insist that high school and basic college education should be conducted in the people's languages- with Hindi, English, and other second languages also well learned. This is the development model adopted in Europe, Korea, Taiwan, etc. Why not in South Asia?

July 24, 2009

The Child In Need Institute UK published a report on Child Malnutrition in India, on 15th May 2009. This report dispels myths about malnutrition in India being a result of poverty, or that its rates are lower than those in Africa.
The report includes practical recommendations about training mothers on how to prepare nutritious meal on the tightest of budgets, preventative healthcare that can help ward of illnesses that make it difficult to absorb nutrients, and the home treatment of diarrhoea. The charity’s experience has shown that these measures have the potential to halve rates of malnutrition within a five-year time-frame.
The entire report can be read at :

Maveen Pereira
August 19, 2009

This data is astounding and saddening too! While measures must be taken to combat malnutrition directly, efforts also need to be made to address the causes, some of which has been indicated by other readers. Under and unemployment, low wages, gender disparities, unfair trade practices, drought,and lack of information supported by strong political will must be tackled simultaneously to ensure sustainable results. This will certainly take much longer, but not addressing these issues can only mean cosmetic solutions.

Pamelia Khaled
April 01, 2010

I agree with Clarence Maloney, language is making a big difference. We are learning economics, poverty reduction policies using universal language English and communicating ourselves in the blog, alas we are unable to communicate our own people and understanding their real problem in their own language. Thus it made us more unable to reduce vulnerability of our children women and men.