Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Many rural Indians 'malnourished'

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Children in Madhya Pradesh state
The report says 40% of children in rural areas are underweight

A new UN report says that many Indians in rural areas suffer malnutrition, despite government programmes.

The report says that 40% of children under the age of three are underweight and a third of all men and women suffer from chronic energy deficiency.

Almost three quarters of India's population - some seven hundred million people - live in rural areas.

They work in labour intensive occupations and so require more energy than urban Indians, the report says.

The report was created by the World Food Programme and India's MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.

MS Swaminathan, founder of the research foundation, said: "If you want to achieve food security for an individual you must bring three things together - availability of food, access to food - that means the purchasing power needed to buy the food - and finally the ability to absorb the food into the body."

Price rises

The report says that global food price rises and climate change have contributed to growing food insecurity in rural India.

But it adds that despite a number of government programmes, the country's malnutrition figures are not coming down.

Part of the problem is that India's rural economy has not grown as fast as the rest of the country, so villagers are unable to pay higher prices for food.

India has a successful public distribution system without which, the report says, a large number of Indians would have gone hungry.

But sharp reductions in subsidies have meant that food supplied through the system now costs significantly more.

The report recommends that India refocuses its economic policies to support its rural population.

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