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Define stunting and wasting. Why are theses more prevalent among children in developing countries?

Define stunting and wasting. Why are these more prevalent among children in developing countries?
(UPSC geography optional paper 1 2019, 10 Marks)


Both Stunting and wasting are the results of a combination of long-term undernourishment, diseases,  and unavailability of a healthy environment. Both problems are more prominent in developing and underdeveloped countries because of unavailable nutrition security.
 As per the Global hunger index 2019, the Indian rank is 102nd out of 117 countries having 30.3 scores and is in serious categories.

Child Stunting:

  • It is the share of children under five who have low height for their age. 
  • It reflects chronic undernourishment. 
  • It leads to brain undeveloped, poor learning, and increased nutrition disease.
  • It is caused by long-term insufficient nutrients and frequent infection. 
  • As per the Global hunger index, three countries have the largest stunting children population:
    • India, having 1/3 rd of the global share
    • Nigeria, 
    • Pakistan.
  • Stunting is not equally distributed in India.
    • 30 % of stunted children are from Northern India.
    • 40 % in central India
    • 20 % in southern India.

Child Wasting:

  • It is the share of children under five having low weight for their height. 
  • It is caused by an acute shortage of food and an unhealthy environment or disease. 
  • It reflects undernutrition. 
  • As per the global hunger index, the following are three countries having the largest wasting population:
    • India has 1/4th of the global share.
    • Nigeria, 
    • Indonesia.

Reason for more prevalent stunting and wasting in developing countries:

  • The high rate of undernourishment population in developing countries.
  • Lack of calories for a large share of the population
  • High wasting and stunting in children result in not having a balanced diet over a longer time.
  • The unhealthy environment such as lack of sanitization, open defecation, and inaccessibility of hospitals.
  • Because of low-level political commitment, administrative efficiency, literacy rate, and women empowerment.
  • Ineffectiveness and variation in the Effectiveness of social institutions in developing countries. India has  Anganwadi, integrated child development.
  • Unhealthy packed food: Only 21% of packed food in India was rated healthy, based on overall energy, salt, sugar, fat, and saturated fat.
  • Gender discrimination: Insufficient nutrients available to pregnant and lactating women. Women are the last to eat in the family.
  • Low literacy rate and insufficient knowledge
  • Economic status: Malnutrition in children is more in ST and SC populations.
  • Open defection causes a communicable disease that also causes stunting and wasting.
Some more details:

For some basic concepts, we have already discussed, please follow the below links:

What is Hunger?
As per FAO( Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nation), hunger means very low calories of consumption for individual health and productive life.

What is Undernutrition or undernourishment?
Hunger only measures the calories but undernutrition signifies deficiencies in other nutrients energy, protein, minerals, and vitamin.
Undernutrition can be caused by:

  • Insufficient nutrients security
  • Inadequate access to health and child care
  • Inaccessibility of safe water, sanitization, and health

What is malnutrition?
Indications of malnutrition are wasting, Stunting, underweight.
Reasons for Malnutrition:

  • Intake of both undernutrition and overnutrition
  • Having an unbalanced diet
  • It is also caused by inadequate minerals and vitamins, and non-communicable diseases.

Global Hunger Index
The global hunger index is being published by the International Food Policy Research Institute( IFPRI), Concern Worldwide, Wealth Hunger Life(WHL) on a yearly basis. The main aim of the index is to highlight the problems of hunger and Nutrition in the world and measure the hunger problems globally, regionally.

The global hunger index is calculated in three steps by using four indicators.
Three steps are:

  • Child mortality rate( 1/3) ( under-five mortality rate)
  • Child Undernutrition(1/3)( Child wasting and stunting)
  • Inadequate food supply( 1/3)( Undernourishment)
The following are four indicators:

  • Child mortality rate
  • Child Wasting
  • Child Stunting
  • Undernourishment
Child mortality rate:
It is the mortality rate of children under five. It reflects inadequate nutrition and an unhealthy environment.

Child Wasting:
It is the share of children under five having low weight for their height. It reflects undernutrition.

Child Stunting:

It is the share of children under five who have low height for their age. It reflects chronic undernourishment.


It is the share of the population who do not consume sufficient caloric food.

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