Alarming Issue Of Malnutrition In Infants Under 6 Months


Malnutrition remains a global health concern, affecting millions of infants and children worldwide. While malnutrition in older children is widely recognized, the alarming issue of malnutrition in infants under six months is often overlooked. This critical period of a child’s life is vital for growth and development, making early intervention essential. Unfortunately, the burden of wasting among Indian children in the first 6 months of life is not well-documented. Infants under the age of six months may exhibit various signs of malnutrition, including low birth weight (including premature birth), wasting, underweight, growth or feeding difficulties, and clinical illness. In India, the statistics reveal a concerning situation, with 27% of infants under six months being wasted or acutely malnourished (weight-for-length (WLZ) < -2), and 13% severely wasted (WLZ < -3). Additionally, 32% of infants are underweight (Weight-for-age (WAZ) < -2), and 10.6% are severely underweight (WAZ < -3) (Government of India, 2021). Furthermore, the prevalence of low-birth-weight infants stands at a staggering 18%, many of whom are already wasted or become wasted later. The rates of timely initiation of breastfeeding are low, with only 41.8% of children being breastfed within the first hour of birth, and exclusive breastfeeding is practiced by only 63.7% of infants under six months of age (Randev, 2020).

Unveiling the Etiology of Malnutrition Among Infants Less Than 6 Months of Age 

  1. Inadequate Exclusive Breastfeeding Practices: One prominent etiological factor contributing to malnutrition in this age group is the practice of suboptimal breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is crucial for providing optimal nutrition and protection against infections. However, challenges such as lack of knowledge, cultural beliefs, maternal employment, and aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes often impede exclusive breastfeeding rates. Studies have shown that suboptimal breastfeeding practices significantly increase the risk of malnutrition among infants (Victoria et al., 2016, Islam et al., 2018).
  2. Maternal Malnutrition and Health Status: The nutritional status and overall health of mothers play a pivotal role in the etiology of malnutrition among infants. Maternal malnutrition, before and during pregnancy, can result in deficiencies of essential nutrients, which may cause prematurity or intrauterine growth retardation and directly affect the quality and quantity of breast milk. Term SGA (small for gestational age) and low birth weight babies are more likely to experiencing wasting and severe wasting (HRD, SAS & UNICEF). Furthermore, maternal illness and infections, particularly during pregnancy and lactation, can hinder the fetus’s and infant’s access to adequate nutrition and contribute to malnutrition (Bhutta et al., 2013). Addressing maternal malnutrition and improving maternal health is crucial for promoting infant nutritional well-being.
  3. Infections and Illness: Infections and illnesses have a profound impact on the etiology of malnutrition among infants. The immature immune systems of infants under six months make them susceptible to infections, which can disrupt nutrient absorption, increase nutrient requirements, and reduce appetite. Common infections such as respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and malaria can lead to malnutrition in this age group (Caulfield et al., 2004). Addressing infections through improved healthcare access, vaccination and hygiene practices is essential in mitigating risk of malnutrition.

In addition to these factors, there are other identified factors like lower maternal education, caesarean section, low birth weight, gender and poverty and socioeconomic factors which contribute to malnutrition among infants less than 6 months of age. Infants under six months are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition due to their physiological immaturity, high nutritional needs, and exclusive reliance on breast milk. Wasting and severe wasting among this age group of young infants is significantly associated with increased risk of morbidity, mortality, and poor cognitive and physical development and thus it is imperative to address it. 

Current Context

While India has made significant strides in improving the survival rates of high-risk newborns and infants through the identification and management of illness withing dedicated facilities and targeted programs (Kumar et al., 2020), there remains room for improvement. The nutritional interventions in India have mainly targeted children aged 6 to 59 months, with facility-based management guidelines issued in 2011 to treat severe acute malnutrition among infants and young children aged 0-59 month. Various programs and platforms in India are aimed at detecting and managing early growth failure however, the utilization of these services often falls short of expectations. To address the needs of at-risk children, existing programs such as Home-Based Newborn Care and Home-Based Young Child Care should be strengthened and expanded to include actions for infants with malnutrition. Although infants with wasting in the first six months of life are also at high risk, they receive less frequent follow-up home visitation than low birth weight babies in the current program (as per HBNC/HBYC Guidelines, 2011).  


One intervention that can prevent and treat malnutrition in children under six months of age is optimal breastfeeding practices which include timely initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age. In fact, exclusive or predominant breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of wasting in the first six months of life (WHO 2021). However, despite the recommended guidelines promoting optimal breastfeeding for the first six months, there is a low compliance rate due to factors such as lack of awareness, social norms, deeply rooted cultural practices, and inadequate support system. Additionally, many women in India suffer from anemia, which can have negative impacts on the mother’s health and increase the risk of low-birth-weight babies. Poor sanitation and hygiene practices also contribute to malnutrition, exposing infants to diarrheal infections and other illnesses that can affect their growth and development. Other key intervention includes improving maternal nutrition during pregnancy, addressing post-partum mental health issues, enhancing skills and knowledge of frontline workers on breastfeeding counselling and resolving challenges faced by mothers in breastfeeding. There is a need for enhanced community-based interventions that address the health and nutrition of both infants and mothers.

There is a great opportunity for further strengthening community-based interventions that focus on promoting the health and nutrition of both infants and mothers. While services for pregnant women primarily address physical ailments, there is a need for increased support for maternal mental health. It is important to address regional variations, improve service integration, and bridge the gaps in referral systems to ensure the seamless delivery of high-quality care. 

To enhance the effectiveness of community-based interventions, it is crucial to address practical constraints such as the limited availability of appropriate equipment and additional efforts are warranted to improve the skill levels of community health workers to ensure strengthened service delivery. 

In India, there is a pressing need for more evidence-based initiatives that specifically focus on the prevention, identification, and management of acute malnutrition in children under six months of age.  Addressing this gap will contribute to the overall well-being and healthy development of infants in the country (Chowdhury et al., 2021). 

Therapeutic approach calls for country-specific guidelines to address the issue of malnutrition among children under 6 months of age at community level (CMAM) and Indian growth standards for early identification of MAM and SAM children under 6 months. Development of a national guideline and protocol for the community-based management of early growth failure in infants under six months, based on the MAMI Care Pathway Package, spearheaded by the National Centre of Excellence for Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition at Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital is very promising. The MAMI Care Pathway Package is tailored to the specific context by integrating its various components into the existing community-based programs.  


The nutritional needs of children under the age of six demand greater attention and emphasis than they currently receive. Implementing innovative and comprehensive strategies such as Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition for Infants (CMAMi) can prove highly beneficial in making a significant impact on the country’s malnutrition statistics. 

To acknowledge and address this, we at Action Against Hunger, India work with mothers, families, communities, and systems to foster requisite support, knowledge, and skills to assure optimal nutritional support to the children under 6 months. 


  1. India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Collaborators. Nations within a nation: variations in epidemiological transition across the states of India, 1990-2016 in the Global Burden of Disease Study. Lancet. 2017; 390:2437–60.
  2. World Health Organization. Updates on the Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition in Infants and Children. Guideline. 2013. Available at: . Accessed on 17th April 2023. 
  3. Knowledge Integration and Translational Platform at Research and Development, society for Applied Studies, new Delhi, India and UNICEF, India. Analysis of wasting and severe wasting and its associated risk factors among under-5 children in India.
  4. Kumar P, Meiyappan Y, Rogers E, et al. Outcomes of hospitalized infants aged one to six months in relation to different anthropometric indices – an observational cohort study. Indian J Pediatr. 2020. .
  5. National Center of Excellence for Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition, Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital LHMC, New Delhi. National Consultation on Addressing Acute Malnutrition 2021, New Delhi.
  6. Mwangome M, Ngari M, Fegan G, et al. Diagnostic criteria for severe acute malnutrition among infants aged under 6 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017; 105:1415–23. 
  7. Mwangome M, Ngari M, Bwahere P, et al. Anthropometry at birth and at age of routine vaccination to predict mortality in the first year of life: a birth cohort study in Burkina Faso. PLoS One. 2019;14: e0213523.
  8. Randev S. Malnutrition in Infants under 6 months: Is it time to change recommendations? Indian J Pediatr. 2020; 87(9):684–685.
  9. Bhutta Z. A, Das J.K, Rizvi A, et al. Evidence-based intervention for improvement of maternal and child nutrition. What can be done and at what cost? The Lancet 2013; 382 (9890): 452-477.
  10. Black R E, Victoria C G, Walker S P, et al. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries. The Lancet 2013; 382 (9890): 427-451. 

Poshan OPD Launched at UHTC : Nourishing Lives Together

Action Against Hunger India in collaboration with Department of Community Medicine, HBT Medical College and Dr. R. N. Cooper Municipal General Hospital launched Poshan Outpatient Department (OPD) at the Urban Health & Training Centre (UHTC) in Andheri. The main goal of this initiative is to combat child malnutrition by implementing a treatment-based approach and ensuring proper follow-up according to the established protocol.

The OPD inauguration was graced by the distinguished presence of Dr. Shailesh Mohite, the esteemed Dean of HBT Medical College and Dr. R. N. Cooper Municipal General Hospital, Mumbai. The event witnessed the participation of hospital staff, as well as employees from Action Against Hunger India who worked tirelessly for this day.

This community-based OPD in our intervention area aims to provide specialized services and follow-up care to improve the nutritional status of children. The unit operates with the objective of combating child malnutrition and promoting the overall well-being of affected children. Together, we are committed to fostering a healthier nation.

Understanding the importance of POSHAN OPD:

POSHAN OPD stands for “Prevention of Malnutrition and Outpatient Department.” It is a program implemented in India to address the issue of malnutrition in children. The program focuses on providing preventive and curative services for malnourished children through specialized outpatient departments (OPDs) in various healthcare facilities.

The main objectives of the POSHAN OPD program are as follows:

  1. Identification: The program aims to identify malnourished children through regular screenings and assessments conducted at healthcare centers. These screenings involve measuring weight, height, and other relevant indicators to assess the nutritional status of children.
  2. Diagnosis and Treatment: Once a child is identified as malnourished, the program provides diagnosis and treatment services through specialized OPDs. The treatment includes a combination of medical interventions, nutritional counseling, and provision of therapeutic foods or supplements to address the child’s nutritional deficiencies.
  3. Monitoring and Follow-up: The POSHAN OPD program emphasizes regular monitoring and follow-up of malnourished children to track their progress and ensure proper adherence to the treatment plan. This includes regular check-ups, weight monitoring, and nutritional counseling for caregivers to promote long-term recovery and sustained improvement in the child’s nutritional status.
  4. Capacity Building: The program also focuses on building the capacity of healthcare professionals involved in managing malnutrition cases. This includes training healthcare providers on the identification, treatment, and prevention of malnutrition, as well as providing them with necessary tools and resources to deliver effective care.

The POSHAN OPD program is part of the broader POSHAN Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission), launched by the Government of India in 2018, with the goal of reducing malnutrition and improving the nutritional status of children and women across the country. The program’s initiatives are implemented through a network of healthcare facilities, including primary health centers, community health centers, and district hospitals, with the aim of reaching children in both rural and urban areas.

The Nexus of Climate Change, Environment, and Hunger: A Call to Action on World Environment Day 2023

On June 5th, every year, the world unites to celebrate World Environment Day, a momentous occasion that serves as a powerful reminder of the urgent need to protect and preserve our planet. In 2023, as we commemorate this day, we must also reflect upon the profound interconnections between climate change, the environment, and the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. For humanitarian global organizations dedicated to addressing these pressing issues, this is a pivotal moment to highlight the critical linkages and advocate for comprehensive action. It is now a matter of much discussion and global recognition that how climate change and environmental degradation impact hunger and malnutrition around the world. As a world united in many ways, we must also explore the transformative steps needed to address this multifaceted challenge.

At Action Against Hunger, we are involved in some of the initiatives to address climate change that is becoming a major determinant of hunger and environmental degradation that can undermine our food security. We are prioritizing sustainable solutions at the intersection of climate change, environment, hunger, and malnutrition.

Through ‘Farmer Field Schools’, we are building the capacities of farmers, right from Central Africa to South Asia, on climate-smart farming techniques and educating them on a variety and types of crops that survive extreme weather but are also nutritious. Using satellite imagery of crops and water, we have set up a ‘Pastoral Early Warning System’ in the Sahel region of West Africa that, combined with on-ground mobile surveys, provide real-time alerts to herders to find comparatively better grazing lands for their livestock. Implementing innovations such as hydroponics and vertical gardens, that have revolutionized the farming sector, have proved to be a boon for our farmers’ struggle with inadequate access to water and soil. We have also strengthened inter-farmer bonds through farmer cooperatives that have enabled farmers to rent larger plots, and as implemented in Uganda, get together to obtain fair prices for their produce. As climate change has impacted the duration of farming seasons, and consequently elongated the hunger seasons, we have been working closely with families to inculcate food preservation practices by providing tools and resources for increasing the shelf-life of their crops. At network level, we are widely involved in emergency relief actions, and have consistently been better advocates for action-based change.

In India, as part of our food security and livelihood initiatives, our efforts strive towards promoting climate and nutrition sensitive farming and agriculture practices and mitigating the effects of climate change. We promote cultivation of nutritious fruits and vegetables through nutri-gardens. These also account for environmentally friendly designs of nutri-gardens, natural, eco-friendly pest control, and fertilizers. We set up vermi-composting units towards inculcating sustainable composting practices that do not limit in use to just the Nutri-gardens but expand beyond till field crops as well. Through poultry farming and pisciculture, we promote livelihoods, diet diversity, and sustainable community building behaviors and practices. However, with the ever increasing burden of climate change, these vulnerable populations are left to face extreme situations of heat and drought, leaving them with little to no sources of food and income. This invokes a sense and urge to flee elsewhere in search of livelihood, pushing them in a situation of distressed migration.

A common scenario in Action Against Hunger India’s working geographies, we have devised platforms to minimize the impact of migration on malnutrition by closely following up with families and helping them in accessing the health and nutrition services for their children.

World Environment Day 2023 serves as a powerful reminder that our action today will determine the future of our planet and generation. The time to save our planet is now and we are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to save our planet. As we reflect upon the undeniable links between global challenges and individual well-being, we must recognize the urgent need for comprehensive and sustainable solutions.

By addressing the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, including the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, we can pave the way for a more resilient and equitable future. This requires a collective effort that spans governments, organizations, communities, and individuals. There is so much to be done at grassroots and at the national and international levels so as to achieve SDG 13 calling for action on climate.

On this World Environment Day, let us commit to promoting climate-smart agriculture, restoring ecosystems, strengthening food systems, prioritizing climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and advocating for change. By embracing sustainable practices and fostering collaboration, we can ensure a world where no one goes hungry, where ecosystems thrive, and where the environment is preserved for generations to come.

Let us leverage our expertise, influence, and resources to tackle the intricate web of challenges at the intersection of hunger, malnutrition, climate change, and the environment. Together, we can forge a path toward a sustainable and food-secure future, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of the most vulnerable populations worldwide.

This World Environment Day, let us renew our commitment to a healthier planet and a hunger-free world. The time to act is now.


1: UN Warns Climate Change Is Driving Global Hunger: UN Warns Climate Change Is Driving Global Hunger
2: A once-in-a-planet opportunity” UNEP Chief Inger Andersen at INC-2: A once-in-a-planet opportunity” UNEP Chief Inger Andersen at INC-2 

Project Vruddhi – A consortium of CARE and Action Against Hunger

Project Vruddhi – Poshit Gujarat | Vikshit Gujarat

Project Vruddhi, is a pioneering endeavor aimed at combating malnutrition by strengthening systems and services in collaboration with Health and Women & Child Development Department (WCD) within the Government of Gujarat. Focused on the first 1,000 days of life model, the project aligns with the Government’s Poshan Abhiyan goals, striving for accelerated progress in nutrition outcomes.Operating as a pilot in Sabarkantha, Vruddhi tests a comprehensive model designed to enhance service delivery. It prioritizes coordination between ICDS – WCD and Health departments, optimizing resources and strategies to ensure efficient nutrition interventions. The initiative’s core principles emphasize capacity building, robust monitoring, and evaluation frameworks to track effectiveness continually.Community engagement is vital for sustainable nutrition practices at grassroots-levels. Project Vruddhi aims to scale its impact in Gujarat by refining strategies from this pilot. It seeks to establish a replicable blueprint for collaborative approaches to address nationwide malnutrition, aligning with Government frameworks for tangible improvements in nutrition outcomes.

Key Interventions:
Promotion of Breastfeeding
Promotion of Complementary Feeding
Prevention of Anemia
Managing Common Childhood Illness
Promotion of Sanitation and Hygiene

Our Stakeholders:
Pregnant women, Lactating women and children up to 3 years, Health and ICDS – WCD Departments

Geography: Sabarkantha, Gujarat


Learn more about Project Vruddhi