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Socioeconomic Inequalities in Childhood Undernutrition in India: Analyzing Trends between 1992 and 2005
Authors: Subramanyam MA, Kawachi I, Berkman LF, Subramanian SV
Source: PLOS ONE , 5(6): e11392. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011392
Topic(s): Child health
Health equity
Country: Asia
Published: JUN 2010
Abstract: Background India experienced a rapid economic boom between 1991 and 2007. However, this economic growth has not translated into improved nutritional status among young Indian children. Additionally, no study has assessed the trends in social disparities in childhood undernutrition in the Indian context. We examined the trends in social disparities in underweight and stunting among Indian children aged less than three years using nationally representative data. Methods We analyzed data from the three cross-sectional rounds of National Family Health Survey of India from 1992, 1998 and 2005. The social factors of interest were: household wealth, maternal education, caste, and urban residence. Using multilevel modeling to account for the nested structure and clustering of data, we fit multivariable logistic regression models to quantify the association between the social factors and the binary outcome variables. The final models additionally included age, gender, birth order of child, religion, and age of mother. We analyzed the trend by testing for interaction of the social factor and survey year in a dataset pooled from all three surveys. Results While the overall prevalence rates of undernutrition among Indian children less than three decreased over the 1992–2005 period, social disparities in undernutrition over these 14 years either widened or stayed the same. The absolute rates of undernutrition decreased for everyone regardless of their social status. The disparities by household wealth were greater than the disparities by maternal education. There were no disparities in undernutrition by caste, gender or rural residence. Conclusions There was a steady decrease in the rates of stunting in the 1992–2005 period, while the decline in underweight was greater between 1992 and 1998 than between 1998 and 2005. Social disparities in childhood undernutrition in India either widened or stayed the same during a time of major economic growth. While the advantages of economic growth might be reaching everyone, children from better-off households, with better educated mothers appear to have benefited to a greater extent than less privileged children. The high rates of undernutrition (even among the socially advantaged groups) and the persistent social disparities need to be addressed in an urgent and comprehensive manner.