Indian women and children who are victims of domestic violence are most likely to suffer from chronic malnutrition, a new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found.
The study involved 69,072 women between the ages of 15-49 years and 14,552 children between the ages of 12-35 months from the Indian National Family Health Survey of 1998-99.
Data, including body measurements, blood samples, exposure to domestic violence in the past year, was collected. The process also involved face-to-face interviews by trained personnel.
The researchers found that women who had experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months had a 11 percent increased likelihood of having anemia and a 21 percent increased likelihood of being underweight, with the same being found true for children.
The data suggest a relation between domestic violence and malnutrition among women and children in India.
The authors believe that one possible explanation is that in India, the withholding of food as a type of abuse could be what causes nutrient deficiencies that lead to anemia and underweight.
"This is strong evidence that domestic violence is linked with malnutrition among both mothers and children. In India, the withholding of food is a documented form of abuse and is likely correlated with the perpetration of physical violence," said S V Subramanian, associate professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, and co-author of the study.
The second possible reason is that domestic violence and nutritional deficiencies may also reflect the effects of psychological stress. Women and children who experience domestic violence tend to have higher levels of psychological stress, which has been associated with anemia and being underweight.
The authors believe that reducing domestic violence not only important from a moral and intrinsic perspective, but for the better health of women and children too.
"More efforts need to be focused on the 'non-health' aspects or 'social' conditions that influence health conditions, and domestic violence represents one such adverse social/contextual aspect that we've identified in Indian society," said Subramanian.
The findings were published online March 26, 2008 in The American Journal of Epidemiology and will appear in an upcoming print issue of the journal.