Is our young workforce healthy enough to work?

-P Srinivasan / [email protected]

We are boasting that that India will reap its ‘demographic dividend’  for having the world’s largest workforce in coming years, but Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (2016-18) released this month states that children and adolescents are at risk of non-communicable diseases along with fighting undernutrition.

India is likely to have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, with a billion people aged between 15 and 64, says Bloomberg News analysis but with 35% of children stunted there is a risk of healthy workforce.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare conducted the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) to collect a complete set of data on nutrition status on Indian children from 0-19 years of age to provide robust data on the shifting conditions of both undernutrition and overweight and obesity.

The survey reveals that India has 34.7% under 5 years children are stunted (height to age),13.2% under 5 years children are severely stunted, 17.3% and 4.9% under 5 years children are  wasted (weight for height) and severely wasted respectively, 33.4% and 10.1% under 5 years children are underweight and severely underweight and 21.9% children aged 5-9 are stunted.

According to UNICEF Stunting is associated with an underdeveloped brain, with long-lasting harmful consequences, including diminished mental ability and learning capacity, poor school performance in childhood, reduced earnings and increased risks of nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in future.

A global review on child stunting and economic outcomes revealed a 1 cm increase in height was associated with a 4% increase in wages for men and a 6% increase in wages for women (McGovern et al., 2017). Investing in the reduction of child malnutrition is paramount for human and economic development.

According to the survey, overweight prevalence differed according to socio-economic status, as children from households in the lowest wealth quintile had a prevalence of 1%, while 9% of children in the highest wealth quintile were overweight. If overweight and obesity are not aggressively addressed, the burden of non-communicable disease will exact a terrible cost on the development of India and reduce its contribution to global health and economic progress, states CNNS report.

In 5-9 years of age group 10.3% and 1.2% were found pre-diabetic and diabetic respectively, while in 10.19 years of age group 10.4% and 0.6% were found pre-diabetic and diabetic respectively.

The survey states that 7% of children of 5-9 years have high serum creatinine that is malfunction of kidneys and 4.9% children aged 10-19 suffer from hypertensive that is blood pressure. In the country 40.6% children in age group of 1-4 years, 23.5% aged 5-9 years and 28.4% aged 10-19 years have anaemia.

High cholesterol and triglycerides in children and adolescents who are the country’s future workforce are at risk of heart diseases. High triglycerides may cause hardening of the arteries or thickening of artery walls increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. In the survey 34% of children aged 5-9 years and 16.1% of adolescents aged 10-19 years had high triglycerides.

This survey has made it clear that children of the country are not healthy, said Dr Narendra Gupta of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Rajasthan. He said that in such situation India will not get physically sound working force.

He said, “There is immediate need to address this emergency. Various schemes to counter malnutrition and other health issues are hugely underfunded. We are claiming to be food surplus country, despite that our children are not getting food.”

Dr Gupta further said that although, India will have the youngest workforce, but by then the developing countries the Artificial Intelligence will start replacing humans.

India (in %) Rajasthan (in %)
Stunted (0-5 years) 34.7 36.8
Severely stunted (0-5 years) 13.2 13.2
Wasted (0-5 years) 17.3 14.3
Severely wasted (0-5 years) 4.9 3.6
Underweight (0-5 years) 33.4 31.5
Severely underweight (0-5 years) 10.1 9.4
Anaemia (1-4 years) 40.6 33.1
Anaemia (5-9 years) 23.5 18.2
Anaemia (10-19 years) 28.4 26
Pre-diabetic (5-9 years) 10.3 8
Pre-diabetic (10-19 years) 10.4 13.6
Diabetic (5-9 years) 1.2 0
Diabetic (10-19 years) 0.6 1.1
Hypertensive (10-19 years) 4.9 2.3
High triglycerides (5-9 years) 34 23.3
High triglycerides (10-19 years) 16.1 7.6
Overweight (10-19 years) 4.8 2.8

Picture Source: UNICEF

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