October 11, 2007 / 2:47 PM / 12 years ago

India's hungry poor dominate latest health survey

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is still struggling to properly feed its children even as its economy booms, according to a survey of its citizens’ health and development on Thursday.

While many development indicators are improving, including literacy and child mortality rates, malnourishment is by some measures getting worse, according to the survey by the health ministry with the help of several multilateral aid agencies.

The wealthy, mostly urban Indian middle class enjoying the fruits of an economy growing annually at near double figures, seem all but invisible in the new data.

Instead, hundreds of millions of poor, undernourished, under-educated agricultural workers dominate the picture.

The same groups continue to be the worst off: girls and women, people born into the bottom of the Hindu caste system and those from tribal communities.

The two-thirds of Indians living in its villages are starkly worse off than those living in cities.

A representative sample of around 200,000 people were interviewed for the survey. Here are some of the main findings of the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey:


- Nearly a quarter of infants are wasting (have low weight for their height), up from a fifth of all infants found by the last survey in 1998/99. Nearly half of all children under 3 years have stunted growth, a sign of prolonged undernourishment. That figure was 51 percent in 1998/99.

- Nearly 80 percent of infants now have anemia, up from 74 percent in 1998/99. The condition can damage mental development in young children. More than half of all women are anemic.

- Three percent of all women are obese, as are one percent of all men — most of them live in cities.


- Nearly sixty percent of women were married — illegally — before their 18th birthday. However the median age of marriage is creeping up — among India’s latest generation of young women, those now aged 20 to 24 years, the median age was just over 18. Less than 12 percent of these young women were already married on their 15th birthday.

- The average women has 2.7 children in her lifetime, down a little from 2.9 in 1998/99.

- Seventy-four in every 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday, down from 95 children in 1998/99.


- Just under half of all women — 45 percent — cannot read. Among women aged 20 to 24 years, illiteracy drops to a third.

- Around 83 percent of children aged 6 to 10 years are going to school. Most children leave school by the time they are 15.

- Fifteen percent of boys and 18 percent of girls between 12 and 14 years are child laborers, either working for their family or outside the household.


- More than half of all Indians are forced to use a field or other outdoor space as a toilet.

- A third of all households have no electricity. Around 60 percent use wood or animal dung for cooking fuel.


- A little over half of all Indian men think hitting or beating their wives is acceptable in certain circumstances, particularly if she disrespects the in-laws. A smaller number think bad cooking or refusing sex are reasons enough. Nearly 55 percent of women think wife-beating is sometimes acceptable.

- Just over a third of married women said they had been pushed, slapped, shaken or otherwise attacked by their husband at least once. One wife in ten said her husband had forced her into sex on at least one occasion.

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