Improving Child Nutrition? The Integrated Child Development Services in India

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Levels of child malnutrition in India have fallen only slowly during the 1990s, despite significant economic growth and considerable expenditure on the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, of which the major component is supplementary feeding for malnourished children. To begin to unravel this puzzle, this article assesses the programme’s placement and its outcomes, using NFHS data from 1992 and 1998. The authors find that programme placement is clearly regressive across states. The states with the greatest need for the programme — the poor Northern states which account for nearly half of India’s population and which suffer from high levels of child malnutrition — have the lowest programme coverage and the lowest budgetary allocations from the central government. Programme place- ment within states is more progressive: poorer and larger villages have a higher probability of having an ICDS centre, as do those with other develop- ment programmes or community associations. In terms of outcomes, the authors find little evidence of programme impact on child nutrition status in villages with ICDS centres.

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