The nutritional status among children under five years of age has worsened over a 10-year horizon period ending last year, latest Census and Statistics Department (CSD) data showed.
‘Seventeen per cent of children under the age of five are stunted (short for their age); 15% are wasted (thin for their height) and 21% are underweight (thin for their age), the latest Sri Lanka Demographics and Health Survey (SLDHS), released by CSD, said.
Data also showed that stunting at 17.3% last year was the same as in 2006. Further, ‘wasting’ among children under five, captured in this survey, had increased, ie. from 14.7% in 2006 to 15.1% last year.
However, the percentage of ‘underweight’ children in the review period had marginally decreased, ie. from 21.1% in 2006 to 20.5% last year.
The current survey was conducted last year and the previous SLDHS in 2016.
The findings complement the fact that the monthly income levels of the people, living in the majority (14 districts) of the country’s 25 districts, falls below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,305 per soul.
“If the mother’s nutritional status is unsatisfactory, her baby is at a higher risk of low weight at birth and morbidities,” the CSD said.
Nutritional intake from birth to two years of age is a key determinant of the future growth, health, and development of the child. However, faltering growth, micronutrient deficiencies, and common childhood illnesses often mark this period, the CSD said. Data from the 2016 SLDHS revealed that 17% of children under the age of five in Sri Lanka are stunted, and 4% are severely stunted. “There is a negative association between stunting and the level of education of the mother and wealth of the households,” the CSD said. Place of residence also seems to impact the levels of stunting in Sri Lanka, with higher levels of stunting in children in the estate sector (32%) than in those of the urban and rural sectors (15%).
The highest levels of stunting were observed in Nuwara Eliya (32%), followed by Kandy (26%), Kegalle (23%), Batticaloa (22%), Ampara (22%) and Mannar, Kilinochchi and Badulla (21%). The lowest prevalence of stunting is observed in Polonnaruwa (11%), followed by Puttalam and Hambantota (12% each). The overall prevalence of ‘wasting’ is 15%, with 3% identified as severely wasted. Wasting is highest among children aged 0-5 months (19%), while the lowest prevalence is observed among those children aged 18-23 months (13%). The level of education of the mother is negatively associated with wasting. Higher levels of wasting were observed in Moneragala (25%), Mullaitivu, and Hambantota (22% each), compared with Matale (10%) and Polonnaruwa (11%) where lower values are observed. Children living in the estate sector (30%) have a much higher prevalence of ‘underweight’ than their counterparts in the urban and rural sectors (21 & 16%respectively), the Department said. Children in Nuwara Eliya have the highest level of underweight (30%), followed by Mullaitivu (26%), Anuradhapura (25%) and Moneragala (24%). The lower levels of underweight children were observed in Jaffna (14%) and in Colombo (15%).