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India has third largest population of ‘zero-food children’ in the world

UP leads zero food kid population dairynews7x7

A recent study had ranked India as having the third-highest percentage of children who had not eaten any food for 24 hours; experts say rapid urbanisation is fuelling malnutrition in country.

Sunita Gautam, a 26-year-old domestic help, wonders if she will be able to provide her 11-month-old boy the nutrition he requires. “My child is mainly dependent on breastmilk. At times, I give him porridge, but that too not every day as he takes time to eat and is more habituated to breastmilk. I have a very busy daily routine. If I don’t earn money, how can I provide a better life for my child?” Ms. Gautam, who works in Lucknow’s Vishal Khand area, asked.

Ms. Gautam’s baby is likely to be one of the millions of “zero-food children” aged six months to 23 months in Uttar Pradesh. These infants have not eaten any food of substantial calorific content — semi-solid, solid,soft, or mushy food, infant formula or fresh milk — for 24 hours.

A study published recently in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open journal found the prevalence of zero-food children in India at 19.3%, drawing attention to extreme food deprivation among children. The study ranks India as having the third-highest percentage of zero-food children, above only Guinea (21.8%) and Mali (20.5%). In terms of numbers, India has the highest number of zero-food children at more than six million.

Uttar Pradesh’s urban population is approximately 23%, according to the 2011 Census and had grown by more than 25% in 2011 when compared with 2001, signifying a large number of poor moving towards urban centres in search of a livelihood.

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Another study published in 2023 in eClinical Medicine, part of the noted Lancet Discovery Science, found that Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 28.4% of zero-food children in India.

“The States of Uttar Pradesh (28.4%), Bihar (14.2%), Maharashtra (7.1%), Rajasthan (6.5%), and Madhya Pradesh (6%) account for nearly two-thirds of the total zero-food children in India,” the report said.

“My husband is an alcoholic. He spends most of his time at home but I cannot trust him to feed the child. He may harm the child as it takes time to feed him [the baby],” Ms. Gautam said.

Shalini Singh, a public health specialist, argues that alongside poverty and marginalisation in economic backgrounds, it is rapid urbanisation and nuclearised families that have contributed to such a large number of “zero food children” in India’s most populous State.

She said lack of awareness about the nutritional needs of children, and misconceptions, also contribute to the numbers.

“Women from underprivileged economic backgrounds work to sustain their families, resulting in their having insufficient time to complement breastfeeding for children above six months of age. With rapid industrialisation, nuclear families have grown in both urban and rural areas, so there is no one to invest the time and energy required to feed a child, apart from the mother,” she said, adding that lack of awareness about nutritional needs of children, and social misconceptions, also contribute to the likely numbers.


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