Background: India launched the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in 2005 to strengthen its primary healthcare system in high-focus and northeast-focus states. One of the NRHM objectives was to reduce child undernutrition in India.
Methods and findings: We used data from 1992, 1998, 2005, and 2015 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India to evaluate trends in child undernutrition prevalence before and after NRHM and across different categories of focus states. Stunting, Wasting, and Comprehensive Index of Anthropometric Failure (CIAF) were assessed using the World Health Organization (WHO) growth curves to assess chronic, acute, and overall undernutrition. The study included 187,452 children aged 3 years or under. Survey-weighted and confounder-adjusted average annualized reduction rates (AARRs) and predicted probability ratios were used to assess trends and socioeconomic disparities for child undernutrition, respectively. Nationwide, the prevalence of all types of undernutrition decreased from 1992 to 2015. However, the trends varied before and after NRHM implementation and differentially by focus states. After NRHM, acute undernutrition declined more rapidly among high-focus states (AARR 1.0%) but increased in normal-focus states (AARR -1.9% per year; p-value for the difference <0.001). In contrast, the prevalence of chronic undernutrition declined more rapidly (AARR 1.6%) in the normal-focus states in comparison to high-focus states (0.3%; p-value for the difference = 0.01). Income and caste-based disparities in acute undernutrition decreased but did not disappear after the implementation of the NRHM. However, similar disparities in prevalence of chronic undernutrition appear to be exacerbated after the implementation of the NRHM. Major limitations of this study include the observational and cross-sectional design, which preclude our ability to draw causal inferences.
Conclusions: Our results suggests that NRHM implementation might be associated with improvement in wasting (acute) rather than stunting (chronic) forms of undernutrition. Strategies to combat undernutrition equitably, especially in high-focus states, are needed.