MUMBAI: While authorities claim Indian children are not as malnourished or stunted as they used to be until a decade ago, a global analysis of data spanning 34 years from 200 countries ranked India at the 196th place with respect to BMI (body mass index). The normal BMI ranges between 20 and 25.
The country’s 19-year-old boys and girls have a BMI of 20.1 compared with, say, China that ranks 88th with its boys having a BMI of 23 and 119th for its girls at 22.2.
As BMI is a function of height, the corollary is that Indian teens are also among the shortest in the world. The review, published in the international medical journal ‘The Lancet’ on Thursday, said India’s boys ranked 180th with an average height of 5.46 feet while girls ranked 182th with an average height of 5.06 feet.
China performed better with regards to height as well. Its 19-year-old boys today were 8cm taller than they were in 1985, with their global rank changing from 150th tallest in 1985 to 65th in 2019. China’s 19-year-olds, on an average, are 5.76-foot tall; Chinese girls were 54th on the global chart, with an average height of 5.35 feet.
“Poor nutrition in school years may have created a 20cm height gap across nations,” said the analysis led by Imperial College London. This 20cm difference between 19-year-olds in the tallest and shortest nations represented an eight-year growth gap for girls and a six-year growth gap for boys, said the study’s authors.
“For instance, the study revealed that the average 19-year-old girl in Bangladesh and Guatemala (the nations with the world’s shortest girls) is the same height as an average 11-year-old girl in the Netherlands, the nation with the tallest boys and girls,” said the authors in a statement .
They listed highly variable childhood nutrition, especially a lack of quality food, as the reason for stunted growth and for a rise in childhood obesity, affecting a child’s health and wellbeing for their entire life.
Experts in India blamed malnutrition caused either due to a liking for nutritionally-deficient fast foods in urban areas or due to poverty in rural India. “There is a great disparity in height and weight in various regions of India, the biggest denominators being urban and rural habitat and socio economic statum,” said Delhi-based endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra.
He said rural children in India had poor nutrition because of low protein and essential micronutrient intake, while urban children hailing from upper socio-economic strata have excess carbohydrates and saturated fats. “The former have low BMI and insufficient height, and latter have better height and BMI and many of them are obese,” added Dr Misra.