Hunger and Nutrition Issues – GHI, GNI, etc.

Undernutrition: Healthy Human Capital Is The Real Wealth


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Stunting, wasting, Human capital Index

Mains level: Undernutrition a significant challenge

“Healthy women and children are pillars of a flourishing society”

Central Idea

  • Undernutrition is a serious public health issue leading to adverse health consequences and affecting the economy, especially in India. Early stimulation and nutrition interventions in infants and young children lead to improved outcomes in adult life. India ranks poorly on the Human Capital Index and has high levels of stunting, anaemia, and malnutrition. Evidence suggests investing in maternal and early-life nutrition leads to high returns on investment.

Undernutrition leads to adverse health consequences and affects the economy

  • Child deaths: Undernutrition leads to 3.1 million child deaths annually, which accounts for 45 percent of all child deaths.
  • High levels of stunting In India: India has unacceptably high levels of stunting (35.5 percent), despite marginal improvement over the years.
  • Stunting affects per capita income: Two-thirds of India’s current workforce is stunted, which has enormous economic costs in terms of a decrease in per capita income. The average reduction in per capita income for developing countries is at 7 percent, with a high of 13 percent for India due to the high rates of stunting.
  • Wasting in India: The economic losses incurred by India due to wasting are estimated at more than US $48 billion in terms of lifetime lost productivity.
  • Anaemia: Another compounding factor is anaemia among young women, at 57 percent, which has lasting effects on their future pregnancies and childbirth. The situation further worsens when infants are fed inadequate diets, and there is inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

Investing in the well-being of women and children is an effective strategy

  • Investing in early childhood: Evidence suggests that every additional dollar invested in quality early childhood programs yields a return of between US$6 and US$17.
  • Better income in future: Early stimulation in infants is known to increase their future earnings by 25 percent. Stunting in childhood leads to impaired brain development, lower cognitive skills and education, leading to lower incomes in the future.
  • For instance: According to estimates, children who are stunted earn 20 percent less as adults than children who are not stunted.

Increased investment in human capital brings economic growth

  • Human capital is the real wealth: The human capital is the wealth of nations and is dependent on the health, nutrition, skills, and knowledge of people.
  • Effective strategy: Evidence suggests investing in the well-being of women and children as an effective strategy for improved outcomes for children.
  • India’s ranking in Human capital Index: India ranks 116 out of 174 countries as per the Human Capital Index, with a score of 0.49 that indicates a child born in India will be 49 percent productive if provided with complete education and good health.
  • Education: Education to children plays a pivotal role in amassing human capital, improving productivity, and economic development. It has been advocated to target the 1000 days’ period from conception to two years of age for improving birth and nutrition outcomes.

Coupling nutrition-specific interventions with nutrition-sensitive programs

  • Nutrition-sensitive interventions: Nutrition-sensitive interventions like water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) focus on the underlying determinants as poor sanitation can lead to stunting.
  • Integrated water and sanitation improvement program: Evidence suggests both short term and long-term reductions in diarrhoea episodes (3-50 percent) through an integrated water and sanitation improvement program in rural India. WASH can bring significant gains in tackling childhood undernutrition and are important determinants of stunting.
  • Nutrition of pregnant women and young children: Studies suggest long term benefits on adult human capital and health by improving the nutrition of pregnant women and young children.
  • For instance: The first 1000 days of life is the time for rapid growth and development, and lack of good nutrition can lead to lifelong adverse consequences. This period is a critical window of opportunity as stunting sets in during this period and aggravates by the age of two years.

Disparities in Undernutrition Prevalence

  • Data (NFHS 5) reveals that India has more stunted children in rural areas as compared to urban areas, possibly due to socio-economic variance.
  • Stunting prevalence varies depending on mother’s education and household income,
  • There is wide variation among regions, with high rates of stunting in states of Meghalaya (46.5 percent) and Bihar (42.9 percent) while states like Sikkim and Puducherry have lowest at 22.3 percent and 20 percent respectively.
  • Notable inter-state and inter-district variation in terms of stunting prevalence.

Way ahead

  • Investing in healthcare facilities is crucial for enhancing productivity, economic growth, and security in India.
  • Addressing undernutrition is necessary for producing and maintaining a healthy, highly skilled workforce in India.
  • Cost-effective investments in child health, nutrition, and education are necessary for improving public health and achieving economic growth in India.


  • Healthy human capital is the true wealth of any nation. In India, undernutrition is a significant public health concern that not only affects the well-being of women and children but also has adverse economic implications. Therefore, addressing undernutrition is critical for creating a healthy, skilled workforce, ensuring economic growth and security in India.

Mains Question

Q. What is India’s ranking on the Human Capital Index, and how does investing in the well-being of women and children contribute to economic growth?

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