Report calls for strong public action to fight child and maternal undernutrition

5 August 2014

A report launched today by the Institute of Development Studies and UNICEF calls for effective public action to tackle childhood stunting. As child undernutrition affects an estimated 165 million children globally and is thought to be the underlying factor behind 45 per cent of all child deaths under five, addressing malnutrition is an urgent issue. 

Maharashtra’s Child Stunting Declines: What is Driving Them? Findings of a Multidisciplinary Analysis

The case of Maharashtra provides clear evidence for effective public action to tackle childhood stunting 

'Maharashtra’s Child Stunting Declines: What is Driving Them? Findings of a Multidisciplinary Analysis' examines the success of the Indian state of Maharashtra in achieving one of the fastest declines in child stunting seen anywhere at any time. The level of child stunting in a population – children too short for their age – is a measure of profound physical and cognitive underdevelopment. The nutrition world is replete with such ‘success stories’ but to date there has been little rigorous analysis of individual cases. 

The research followed a multidisciplinary approach to understand the reasons behind the reported decline in stunting  from 39% to 24%. The authors reviewed available evidence and undertook statistical analysis of the survey data collated between 2006 and 2012. They combined this with qualitative interviews with a broad range of key stakeholders in the state to try to determine the driving forces behind this decline in undernutrition.

There is a need to address multiple issues to make real progress 

The report concludes that the case of Maharashtra shows what can be achieved when modest progress on a number of fronts (e.g. economic growth, empowering women and improving their maternal health; a committed government and improving services) combine. The state provides a new example of leadership in nutrition that will serve as a future example of what can drive success in tackling the global crisis of child and maternal undernutrition.

So, as the authors conclude: 'When leadership in government and civil society join forces within a reasonably supportive socioeconomic context, as Maharashtra shows us, public action can reduce undernutrition – fast.'

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Lawrence Haddad, co-author of the report, and Senior Research Fellow in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Poverty Health and Nutrition Division presents a summary of the research findings in the video below.