Food disruption during Covid led rise in malnutrition among children: Study

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malnutrition among children

The disruption of India’s food systems during the Covid-19 pandemic was associated with a steep rise in malnutrition among children as the lockdown impacted their nutritional status, according to a study.

Researchers from the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition in New Delhi analysed pre- and post-pandemic survey data on children’s health and nutrition.

The study, published in the journal Economic and Political Weekly, found that the number of children deemed underweight increased by 14 per cent as a result of disruptions caused by the pandemic. These included supply chain disruptions, price inflation, loss of work and the interruption of government food safety net programme.

Previous TCI research on the impact of Covid-19 has found that supply chain disruptions caused food prices to increase and that women’s dietary diversity worsened during the pandemic. “Researchers long suspected that pandemic-related disruptions to India’s food systems reduced access to healthy, nutritious diets, especially for marginalised populations dependent on government programmes,” TCI director Professor Prabhu Pingali said. In a statement, he said, “Our study confirms these suspicions and shows the real damage done to children’s nutrition and development.”

The team, including TCI researcher Payal Seth, examined survey data collected from 511 households in Bihar and Odisha in June 2017 and July 2021.

The researchers found that the percentage of underweight children increased from 31 per cent in 2017 to 45 per cent in 2021, with children under the age of 2 disproportionately impacted. Most of the shift occurred in children who already had a low weight for their age in 2017.

The study shows a number of factors were behind a child’s weight-for-age worsening. These included reduced access to food safety net programmes like Integrated Child Development Services and the Partnerships and Opportunities to Strengthen and Harmonize Actions for Nutrition initiative or Mid-Day Meal Scheme.