Globally, India is home to every third child affected by stunting. While numerous studies have examined the correlates of childhood stunting (CS) in India, most of these studies have focused on examining the role of proximal factors, and the role of contextual factors is much less studied. This study presents a comprehensive picture of both proximal and contextual determinants of CS in India, expanding the current evidence base. The present study is guided by the WHO conceptual framework, which outlines the context, causes, and consequences of CS.
Data and methods
The study used exploratory spatial data analysis tools to analyse the spatial pattern and correlates of CS, using data from the fourth round (2015–16) of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) and the 2011 Census of India.
The study findings reiterate that CS continues to be high in India, with several hot spot states and districts, and that children from the central and eastern region of the nation, namely, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh are particularly vulnerable. Our analysis has identified six risk factors—maternal short stature, large household size, closely spaced births, prevalence of hypertension among women, household poverty, open defecation, and extreme temperature—and four protective factors—female education, access to improved drinking water, dietary diversity among children, and iron and folic acid (IFA) supplementation during pregnancy.
The study highlights the need for investing in pre-conception care, addressing both demand- and supply-side barriers to increase the coverage of nutrition-specific interventions, implementing programmes to promote the intake of healthy foods from an early age, providing contraceptive counselling and services to unmarried and married adolescents and young women and men, and universalizing quality primary and secondary education that is inclusive and equitable to avert the burden of childhood stunting in India.