On International Women’s Day, a Focus on Women’s Nutrition in India

Turning the focus on women’s nutrition (image courtesy: POSHAN Team)

Of the 1.2 billion people in India, 586 million are women. On World Women’s Day, as we consider ways of empowering women and girls to optimize their full potential, it is also important to examine the ways in which poor nutrition among women might compromise their ability to fully participate in society.  Thus, on International Women’s Day 2018, the POSHAN team brings you a snapshot of how India’s women are doing on nutrition outcomes. 

-          Women face multiple forms of malnutrition.  Our examination of NFHS-4 data highlights that a third of women of reproductive age (between 15 to 49 years) are undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m2. About half (51.4 percent) of women in reproductive age are anaemic.  And of much concern, one in five (22 percent of) adult women in India are overweight.

-          The manifestations of poor nutrition among women vary by state and by district.  India’s state- and district-wise analyses on nutrition outcomes (available in POSHAN’s Policy Notes and District Nutrition Profiles) highlight how varied the challenges are across India.

  • The prevalence of low BMI among women (15-49 years) ranges from 3.3 percent in Tawang and Kurung Kumey districts of Arunachal Pradesh to 47.5 percent in Puruliya district of West Bengal.
  • The prevalence of anemia among women of reproductive age varies from 83.2 percent in Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, to 9 percent in Phek district of Nagaland. Several districts with extremely high prevalence of anemia among women are clustered around the eastern areas.
  • The prevalence of obesity and overweight among women ranges from 47.9 percent in Hyderabad district of Andhara Pradesh, to 2.4 percent in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.

An analysis of underlying and basic determinants of undernutrition reveals that the education of women and their age at marriage are crucial factors influencing the overall nutrition outcomes. In Odisha, where the status of nutrition outcomes is better than the national average, subsequent NFHS data (3 & 4) show that there was a rise in women’s literacy (from 52.2 percent in 2006 to 67.4 percent in 2016) and the proportion of women with more than 10 years of education increased from 15.6 percent to 26.7 percent over this period. Therefore, it is critical to focus on the status of women, along with improving their nutrition and fitness.

As we focus on women’s economic and social empowerment on March 8, let us also focus on bringing the millions of women and girls in India out of malnutrition. This is essential for their own health and wellbeing, and for unlocking their full potential as workers, caregivers and leaders. In a fast-growing economy like India, well-nourished and empowered women and girls will be better equipped to maximize their contribution to the growth and development of the nation.