EClinicalMedicine (Apr 2023)

Prevalence of Zero-Food among infants and young children in India: patterns of change across the States and Union Territories of India, 1993–2021Research in context

  • S.V. Subramanian,
  • Mayanka Ambade,
  • Smriti Sharma,
  • Akhil Kumar,
  • Rockli Kim

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 58
p. 101890


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Summary: Background: The extent of food deprivation and insecurity among infants and young children—a critical phase for children's current and future health and well-being—in India is unknown. We estimate the prevalence of food deprivation among infants and young children in India and describe its evolution over time at sub-national levels. Methods: Data from five National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) conducted in 1993, 1999, 2006, 2016 and 2021 for the 36 states/Union Territories (UTs) of India were used. The study population consisted of the most recent children (6–23 months) born to mothers (aged 15–49 years), who were alive and living with the mother at the time of survey (n = 175,614 after excluding observations that had no responses to the food question). Food deprivation was defined based on the mother's reporting of the child having not eaten any food of substantial calorific content (i.e., any solid/semi-solid/soft/mushy food types, infant formula and powdered/tinned/fresh milk) in the past 24 hours (h), which we labelled as “Zero-Food”. In this study, we analyzed Zero-Food in terms of percent prevalence as well as population headcount burden. We calculated the Absolute Change (AC) to quantify the change in the percentage points of Zero-Food across time periods for all-India and by states/UTs. Findings: The prevalence of Zero-Food in India marginally declined from 20.0% (95% CI: 19.3%–20.7%) in 1993 to 17.8% (95% CI: 17.5%–18.1%) in 2021. There were considerable differences in the trajectories of change in the prevalence of Zero-Food across states. Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, and Jammu and Kashmir experienced high increase in the prevalence of Zero-Food over this time period, while Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh witnessed a significant decline. In 2021, Uttar Pradesh (27.4%), Chhattisgarh (24.6%), Jharkhand (21%), Rajasthan (19.8%) and Assam (19.4%) were states with the highest prevalence of Zero-Food. As of 2021, the estimated number of Zero-Food children in India was 5,998,138, with the states of Uttar Pradesh (28.4%), Bihar (14.2%), Maharashtra (7.1%), Rajasthan (6.5%), and Madhya Pradesh (6%) accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total Zero-Food children in India. Zero-Food in 2021 was concerningly high among children aged 6–11 months (30.6%) and substantial even among children aged 18–23 months (8.5%). Overall, socioeconomically advantaged groups had lower prevalence of Zero-Food than disadvantaged groups. Interpretation: Concerted efforts at the national and state levels are required to further strengthen existing policies, and design and develop new ones to provide affordable food to children in a timely and equitable manner to ensure food security among infants and young children. Funding: This study was supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation INV-002992.