Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Indian diet changing for the worse? New findings

Recent findings that the nutrient intake among Indian population is steadily changing for the worse are some what strange considering that the economic health of the nation is considered healthy with higher income and lower inflation prevalent during the last few years. A deeper look at the figures based on which these conclusions have been drawn will tell a different story. Generally average figures do not reflect the ground reality and if these figures are true, it means there are many, mostly poor, who do not consume even the average level nutrition because higher income people consume far higher amount of foods getting much more than the recommended levels of nutrients. But can this be true? How long a human survive with lesser calories and other vital nutrients like proteins? If the nutrient intake is tending to be lower, in spite of the progress the country has made, the implication is that the productive capacity of the working population is becoming poorer day by day. Here is the gist of the argument put forward by some critics on this issue which may be some what far fetched. 

"The average protein intake of a person through normal diet has dipped 6-10% in the past two decades with almost 80% of rural population and 70% of urban people not getting the government-designated 2,400kcal per day worth of nutrition, latest data shows. Comparative estimates drawn by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) reveal that in urban areas the gap in nutrition intake is worse. While the richest get over 2,518kcal each per day, the poorest get less than 1,679kcal — a difference of nearly 50%. "The situation has very harmful health implications, apart from its sheer inhumanity," says Vaibhav Kulkarni, chairman-nutraceuticals committee (western region), Ficci.  The data shows daily protein consumption at the national level dipped from 60.2g for a person in 1993-94 to 56.5g in 2011-12 in rural areas and from 57.2g to 55.7g in urban areas. Experts say though there are many reasons behind the dip, change in eating habits and decline in quality of natural products are some of the key reasons for the reducing nutrition intake".

The reason attributed to this "dip" in nutrition status is the undesirable change in food habits though it is not clearly spelt why there should be a lowering of calorie intake?. Globally with affluence among low income groups, calories intake usually shoots up while overall nutritive value of the diet suffers with respect to many essential nutrients. The word "empty calorie" has been coined to reflect the poor quality of such calorie rich diets containing high sugars and fats. If human physiology is taken seriously, humans will not compromise on hunger if they have money in their hands and there is no reason why Indians cannot spend on calorie adequate foods such as cereals which are supplied at low prices through the Public Distribution system of the country to the poor people? In the light of these realities, it is difficult to take the figures trotted out above as true reflection of the situation existing in the country. National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) with its nutrition monitoring net work has not raised this matter so far and Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is a reliable agency to forewarn about any such alarming trend, if it really is true.  


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