Nutritional disparities among women in urban India

Nutritional disparities among women in urban India

India is home to 1.21 billion people. Out of them, 377.1 million people (31.2%) live in urban areas. India is urbanising rapidly. Its urban population has increased from 27.8% in 2001 to 31.2% in 2011 and is expected to increase further to 535 million (38%) by 2026.

Food inflation, meagre wages, cash-based economy, and involvement in strenuous manual work in informal/unorganised sector, unprotected by labour laws of maternity leave, heighten the risk of undernutrition among urban underprivileged women, thus adversely affecting their future and that of their children.

National and state-level information about maternal nutrition situation among urban poor in India, based on representative datasets, is still not available. This study is among the first attempts to analyse large scale secondary data, such as from Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to unmask the extent of disparities in nutritional status and access to services of Indian women belonging to the poorest wealth quartile of the country’s urban population compared to the rest of the urban population.

This paper highlights an utmost need for the use of disaggregated urban data and addressing nutrition inequities among women in urban India, which go unnoticed owing to the use of urban aggregate data at all levels. Given the high levels of undernutrition in women in the poorest urban quartile, it is suggested that the following may be done:

  • routine screening of women who are undernourished or suffer from three key micronutrient deficiencies, using field-based methods and instituting corrective measures
  • improving access to food subsidy through Public Distribution System (PDS) via better access to card-holders living below poverty line (BPL) or alternative approaches that are being currently debated or piloted
  • free distribution of iodised salt to pregnant women during health and nutrition days and/or universalising its subsidy through PDS
  • institutionalising nutrition and health counselling for mothers, using approaches involving fixed day, time, and venue and monitoring their coverage and quality for promotion of services and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods
  • resetting strategies for improving compliance to iron folic acid tablets and testing efficacy of strategies for alternative micronutrient food-based supplementation, including the strengthening of measures to prevent intestinal infections
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