The cliché that India is a land of contradictions has never been more apparent: Child malnutrition in the country is higher than most of sub-Saharan African countries. But at the same time, there has been a rise in childhood obesity among the urban middle class.
Amid all the recent reports about conspicuous consumption by India’s burgeoning middle class comes a sobering study. While government reports show that 20 percent of Indians living in the cities are obese, a UNICEF report released on Tuesday said there is acute malnutrition and hunger among the urban poor.
“At least 54 percent more infants die from among the urban poor families than from the urban non-poor. One in two children are underweight among the urban poor in India,” said Kanchan Dyuti Maiti, a specialist in social policy monitoring and evaluation at UNICEF India.
Only 53 percent of poor pregnant women in urban areas have access to safe deliveries and six out of 10 urban poor women are anemic, he said.
Last year, a Bangalore-based sports management agency, EduSport, reported that nearly half of the 4,000 school going children surveyed in 15 cities were overweight. Government reports also show that Indians are battling rising in obesity-related diseases like diabetes.
Over 377 million Indians live in cities now, according to the census reports. By 2026, the number will rise to 535 million. While the rapid expansion of the cities has offered unprecedented economic opportunities for many Indians, it has not narrowed the gap in the access to services.
About 93 million Indians live in 49,000 urban slums, pavements and construction sites, said the UNICEF report on the state of the world’s children. One in three slums in India is located next to large drains and railway tracks, and the children living in slums suffer from poor access to water, sanitation and education, the report says.
In India’s capital New Delhi, just over 54 per cent of children from slums attended primary school between 2004 and 2005, compared with 90 percent of children city-wide, said the report.
Watch a video from UNICEF on the full “The State of the World’s Children 2012” report: