Poor sanitation and childhood stunting
July 14, 2014 5:20 AM   Subscribe

New research on malnutrition, which leads to childhood stunting, suggests that a root cause may be an abundance of human waste polluting soil and water, rather than a scarcity of food. (SLNYT)

This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting afflicts 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.

This disconnect between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to lessen malnutrition.
posted by Dip Flash (11 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
See also previously.

India has a mind-bogglingly serious malnutrition crisis. As well as the issue of sanitation, another factor is India's past focus on food security as opposed to nutrition security – giving big government subsidies for carby grains such as wheat, but not to other key components of a nutritious, balanced, Indian vegetarian diet like lentils and vegetables, which are relatively more expensive and difficult to acquire.

At least, that is what I have read previously. Looks like these researchers are now arguing that sanitation is a vastly more important part of the problem.
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:46 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Half of India’s population, or at least 620 million people, expels waste outside. And while this share has declined slightly in the past decade, an analysis of census datashows that rapid population growth has meant that most Indians are being exposed to more human waste than ever before.

In Sheohar, for instance, a toilet-building program between 2001 and 2011 decreased the share of households without toilets to 80 percent from 87 percent, but population growth meant that exposure to human waste rose by half.

Wow. Whether or not sanitation is the main problem, it certainly sounds like a massive problem. How do you change the most personal habits of half a billion people?
posted by mantecol at 6:42 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to leave this little song here and leave it at that.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:49 AM on July 14, 2014

I'll see your song and raise you.

posted by Green Winnebago at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is the word "shit" not as rude in India as it is in the US? I can't imagine a group like UNICEF using it in a song aimed at Americans.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:37 AM on July 14, 2014

How do you change the most personal habits of half a billion people?

Paging Jenny McCarthy ...
posted by Dashy at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember reading a book by V.S. Naipaul - "An Area of Darkness", I think it was - which (in my remembering) swirled around his disgust for open defecation in India. There was plenty of other stuff in the book, but the centre of Naipaul's erudite rage was shit.

I see from Wikipedia that the book "was immediately banned in India for its negative portrayal of India and its people".

Sounds like that censorship may have been a mistake.
posted by clawsoon at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm bizarrely obsessed about the human waste issues in India. I know a handful of Indians in America for school, and I went to high school with many first/second generation Indian-Americans. By and large they were all from families well off in India, so its shocking to me that it is such a big problem in India. I just can't imagine a country developing as quickly as they are still having trouble figuring out where to put its crap.
posted by lownote at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2014

I just can't imagine a country developing as quickly as they are still having trouble figuring out where to put its crap.

The statistic in the article that jumped out at me was that the open defecation rate in China is 1 percent and Bangladesh is 3 percent. In other words it's a solvable problem without first world levels of resources, which points back to culture (including sexism and inequality) as the key.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:15 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Reading that whole article, it's sort of astonishing that the death rate isn't higher.
posted by emjaybee at 11:25 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the bright side, it looks as though the carrying capacity of the planet is not as much of a problem as some people think. Lots of food, too much shit.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:53 AM on July 14, 2014

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