India has one of the highest rates of childhood malnutrition worldwide, and poor maternal health and nutrition are major contributors to the problem. There is no national monitoring system in place to regularly monitor women’s health, thus there is no regularly collected data on average prepregnancy body mass and weight gain during pregnancy, which are important predictors of neonatal outcomes, birthweight, and long term outcomes for children and adults. Current estimates of nutritional status in pregnancy, based on out-dated cross-sectional surveys, thus largely underestimate the scale of the problem.
This note uses econometric techniques and nationally representative survey data to estimate more accurate measures of nutrition before and during pregnancy for women in both India and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This research finds that the average pregnant woman in India is much worse off than her counterpart in SSA: not only are pre-pregnant women in India much more likely to be underweight than those in SSA, but Indian women end pregnancy weighing even less, on average, than women in SSA do when they begin pregnancy.