PIEP Working Paper: The Myth of Child Malnutrition in India

by Arvind Panagariya

A common continuing criticism of the economic reforms in India has been that despite accelerated growth and all-around poverty reduction, the country continues to suffer from child malnutrition that is worse than nearly all of the Sub Saharan African countries with lower per-capita incomes. Nearly half of India’s under-five children are said to be underweight and stunted. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently described the problem as ‘a matter of national shame.’ I argue in this paper that this narrative, nearly universally accepted around the world, is both false and counter-productive from the viewpoint of policy formulation. It is purely an artifact of a faulty methodology that the World Health Organization has pushed and the United Nations has supported. If the numbers are correctly done, in all likelihood, India will have no more to be ashamed of its achievements in child nutrition than vital statistics such as life expectancy, infant mortality and maternal mortality.

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