A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that mothers in India are less healthy than mothers in Africa are. Dr. Diane Coffey of Princeton University found that 42 percent of Indian mothers are underweight compared to 16.5 percent of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa. Coffey also found that Indian women actually weigh less at the end of their pregnancies than do women in Africa, which is startling.
People in India are usually richer and better-educated than people in Africa are. Yet young mothers in India have worse wealth than do young mothers in Africa.
One problem is Indian society itself, as the reports in RealDeal seem to indicate. Young, newly-wed women are at the bottom of the hierarchy in a typical household. At the same time a woman becomes pregnant, she is expected work hard, be quiet and eat little. In many households, the husband eats first, the children get fed next, and the mother gets the left-overs.
India’s crude sanitation is another problem. The women and their children both fall prey to various water-borne parasites. One doctor, Shella Duggal, reported that almost every pregnant woman she has treated is severely anemic, due to both parasites and lack of food. At her clinic, it is standard operating procedure to de-worm the women, give them iron pills, and urge them to eat more.
The poor health of Indian mothers affects their children. Dr. Coffey noted that Indian children are smaller and shorter than their peers in Africa are. It also increases their mortality. India has 1/6 of the world’s population — and 1/3 of the newborn deaths.