Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Worrying trends in nutrition indicators in NFHS-5 data


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Dealing with the nutrition gap


The NFHS-5 factsheets for India and all states and Union territories are now out. At first glance, it appears to be a mixed bag — much to cheer about, but concern areas remain.

Positives from the NFHS-5 survey

  • Change in demographic trends: For the first time since the NFHS 1992-93 survey, the sex ratio is slightly higher among the adult population.
  • Improvement in sex ratio at birth: For the first time in 15 years that the sex ratio at birth has reached 929 (it was 919 for 1,000 males in 2015-16).
  • The total fertility rate has also dropped from 2.2 per cent to a replacement rate of 2 per cent, albeit with not much change in the huge fertility divide between the high and low fertility states.
  • Improvement in literacy level of women: There has been an appreciable improvement in general literacy levels and in the percentage of women and men who have completed 10 years or more of schooling, which has reached 41 per cent and 50.2 per cent respectively.
  • Improvements in health indicators: The health sector deserves credit for achieving a significant improvement in the percentage of institutional births, antenatal care, and children’s immunisation rates.
  • There has also been a consistent drop in neonatal, infant and child mortality rates — a decrease of around 1 per cent per year for neonatal and infant mortality and a 1.6 per cent decrease per year for under five mortality rate.

Nutrition: Area of concern

  • Increase in anaemic people: India has become a country with more anaemic people since NFHS-4 (2015-16), with anaemia rates rising significantly across age groups, ranging from children below six years, adolescent girls and boys, pregnant women, and women between 15 to 49 years.
  • Why anaemia is a concern? Adverse effects of anaemia affect all age groups — lower physical and cognitive growth and alertness among children and adolescents, and lesser capacity to learn and play, directly impacting their future potential as productive citizens.
  •  Further, anaemia among adolescent girls (59.1 per cent) advances to maternal anaemia and is a major cause of maternal and infant mortality and general morbidity and ill health in a community.
  • The detailed report will explain why a dedicated programme like Anaemia Mukt Bharat which focused on IFA consumption failed to gain impetus.
  • Slow pace of improvement in nutritional indicators: Between NFHS 4 and NFHS 5, the percentage of children below five years who are moderately underweight has reduced from 35.8 per cent to 32.1 per cent.
  • Moderately stunted children have fallen from 38.4 per cent to 35.5 per cent, moderately wasted from 21 per cent to 19.3 per cent and severely wasted have increased slightly from 7.5 per cent to 7.7 per cent.
  • Inadequate diet: The root cause for this is that the percentage of children below two years receiving an adequate diet is a mere 11.3 per cent, increasing marginally from 9.6 per cent in NFHS-4.

Way forward

  • India’s nutrition programmes must undergo a periodic review.
  • The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which is perceived as the guardian of the nation’s nutritional well-being must reassess itself and address critical intervention gaps, both conceptually and programmatically, and produce rapid outcomes.


The nutritional deficit which ought to be considered an indicator of great concern is generally ignored by policymakers and experts. Unless this is addressed, rapid improvement in nutritional indicators cannot happen.

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