Oct 13, Colombo: Despite efforts to increase the nutritional level of Sri Lanka's children, the child malnutrition has increased and more than one-fifth of Sri Lankan children under five weigh too little for their height according to a report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017 released on Thursday by the Washington-based IFPRI Sri Lanka ranks 84th among 119 countries with an overall score of 25.5.
The 2017 GHI examines levels of hunger in 119 developing countries and countries in transition and scores them based on four indicators - the prevalence of undernourishment, child stunting (low height-for-age), child wasting (low weight-for-height), and child mortality.
Among other South Asian countries India ranked 100, Pakistan 106, Nepal 72, Bangladesh 88, and Afghanistan 107.
In the case of Sri Lanka, examination of its GHI indicator values reveals that while the prevalence of undernourishment, child stunting, and child mortality have declined moderately, child wasting has gone up.
Only three other countries in this year's GHI - Djibouti, India and South Sudan - have data or estimates showing child wasting above 20 percent in the latest period (2012-2016).
Prevalence of wasting in Sri Lankan children under five years increased to 21.4 percent in the five-year period from 2012-2016. In the previous five-year period from 2006 - 2010 only 13.3 percent of children were wasted.
Wasting, or low weight for height, is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease according to the UNICEF.
Sri Lanka's Proportion of undernourished in the population declined to 22.1 percent in 2014-2016 period from 27.1 percent in the 2007-2009 period and prevalence of stunting in children under five years declined to 14.7 percent in 2012-2016 from 18.3 percent in 2008-2010. Under-five child mortality rate dropped 1.0 percent from 1.2 percent.
According to UNICEF, the causes of child undernutrition in Sri Lanka, a country that suffers no significant food shortages and provides extensive, free maternal and child health services, are not well understood. But studies reveal multiple micronutrient deficiencies among children, with causes that include a combination of inadequate intake, knowledge and cultural factors that influence the utilization of health services and available food as well as diseases that prevent proper nutrient absorption are reasons.
According to health authorities despite good health indicators at national level, which stand out in comparison to Sri Lanka's South Asian neighbors maternal and child undernourishment continues to be a major challenge in the country.