Children in the national capital may encounter stunted growth and become more vulnerable to diseases as more than a quarter of them under the age of five are underweight, a National Family Health Survey revealed on Tuesday.

According to data provided by the fourth edition of the survey, 27.3 per cent children in Delhi have an improper age-weight ratio, falling below the World Health Organization (WHO) standard, indicating the lack of nutrition in the diet they take.

“Our children require the best nutrition as they grow faster in this age and need proper nutrition for healthy growth. However, they are also the biggest sufferers due to lack of equal access to nutrition.

“Malnutrition is not just lack of food, it is a combination of factors like insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, poor care and feeding practices, inadequate health services, frequent infections or disease, and poor water and sanitation. In the long term, it may impair the child’s physical and mental development,” said Raghuram Mallaiah, Director, Neonatology at New Delhi’s Fortis La Femme.

He added that inadequate nutrition may stunt a child’s growth, deprive him or her of essential vitamins and minerals, and make children more susceptible to infectious diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, measles and can even cause death.

According to the WHO, malnutrition is the single biggest threat to global public health and causes nearly 45 per cent deaths of children aged under five years.

As per reports, malnutrition in children impacts their education as the degree of cognitive impairment is directly related to the severity of stunting and Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA).

Stunted children in the first two years of life usually have lower cognitive test scores, delayed enrolment, higher absenteeism and more class repetition compared with non-stunted children.

Vitamin A deficiency in children reduces immunity and increases the incidence and gravity of infectious diseases that result in increased school absenteeism.

Underweight children are likely to be at a greater risk of premature death due to the negative impacts of undernourishment such as micronutrient deficiencies, poor immunity and susceptibility to infections.

“To fight this menace, we need to create sustainable, resilient food systems for healthy diets and ensure that social protection and nutrition-related education is available to all.

“We also need to align our health systems to the nutrition needs of children, ensuring that policies are devised to improve access to nutrition,” Mallaiah said.