South Asia has the highest regional “hunger index”, at 22.9 (out of 100), according to the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI) released earlier this week. The report cites the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women as leading factors that contribute to a high prevalence of underweight in children under five, one of the key indicators that forms the basis of the ranking.
There are, however, signs of progress in the region. For example, the GHI score fell by 25 percent in South Asia compared with the 1990 score while progress in Southeast Asia was especially great, with the GHI scores decreasing by 40 percent and more.
The following are some background facts and key findings from the 2010 GHI that relate to Asia:
- Bangladesh, India, and Timor-Leste have the highest prevalence of underweight children in Asia– 40 percent.
Over the past 25 years, Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing its under-five mortality rate, as well as the prevalence of underweight and stunted children. Despite these improvements, 54 out of every 1,000 children do not survive to their fifth birthday and a staggering 43 percent of Bangladeshi children are stunted, accounting for almost 4 percent of stunted children worldwide.
Between 1990 and 2002, China reduced child malnutrition from 25 percent to 8 percent with a highly successful poverty alleviation strategy; effective large-scale health, nutrition, and family-planning interventions; and increased spending on water, sanitation, and education.
Between 1990 and 2008, the prevalence of underweight children dropped from 60 percent to 44 percent, while the under-five mortality rate fell from 12 percent to 7 percent.
In 2005-06, about 44 percent of Indian children under age five were underweight and 48 percent were stunted. Because of the country’s large population, India is home to 42 percent of the world’s underweight children and 31 percent of its stunted children.
Between 1990 and 2005, the proportion of children who were underweight decreased from 22 percent to 7 percent. This impressive reduction can be attributed to rapid economic growth, as well as interventions targeted to women and young children.
During the 1980s, Thailand halved malnutrition from 50 percent to 25 percent by using targeted nutrition interventions and creating a widespread network of community volunteers to help change people’s behavior.