Disparity in childhood stunting in India: Relative importance of community-level nutrition and sanitary practices
Despite rapid macro-economic growth, one-third of the global burden of childhood stunting is contributed by India. This burden is characterized by wide-spread geographical variation within the country. This paper explores two research questions: (i) are the drivers of severe and moderate stunting similar? (ii) differential endowments or policy-effect, how do community-level nutrition and sanitary practices affect inter-state differences? Using data from Indian National Family and Health Survey
... and Health Survey 4, 2015-16, six states holding different ranks in the stunting continuum are compared to Tamil Nadu, taken as the benchmark state due to its laudable performance in the health care sector. Applying quantile regression approaches, the difference in state-level performance is decomposed into detailed covariate effects (differential endowments) and coefficient effects (differential strength of association between the drivers and outcome). The explanatory variables are not similarly associated with severe and moderate stunting. Decomposition results demonstrate a significant role of community-level sanitation practices compared to child nutrition behaviour in explaining the inter-state disparity. Coefficient effects play a dominant role in the lower tail of HAZ distribution for the poor performing states indicating that the worse outcomes of these states are due to weaker policy effects of the control variables on stunting. Multi-sectoral approach, identification and differentiation between severe and moderate stunting cases can be more instrumental in managing and reducing the scourge. This paper also advocates the potential benefits of customizing centrally-launched policies as per the state's performance and introducing the concept coproduction in the existing nutrition and health policy framework. This will instigate a feeling of ownership of the problem of childhood stunting among the policy consumers and strengthen the influence of policies on the outcomes.