Sharing Session# 25: "Producing Under-nutrition" by Dr. Veena Shatrugna
on June 18th, 2011 @ 4:30 PM
Conference Hall, Centre for World Solidarity (CWS),
Street No.1, Tarnaka, Secunderabad
The nutritional status of the poor in India maybe described as alarming. Most of the indicators of nutrition status such as adult weights, heights BMI, percentage of children who are severely malnourished, mean birth weights, infant mortality rates, dietary intakes and unacknowledged starvation deaths confirm this fact. Hunger is as widespread as it is invisible to the scientific eye. The question that must be asked is how did India get into this trap of under nutrition with such serious consequences?
Chronic hunger as it exists in India can be largely traced to the rapid scientific advances in the area of food and nutrition analysis, and classification. In addition, from 1940s, the dietary requirements of populations was laid out in terms of calories, with the assumption that foods which are culturally and regionally appropriate such as rice, eggs, milk, fowl, pulses, fish, greens, etc. would be consumed in quantities which would provide calories and all the other nutrients.Nutrition research in the 50s and 60s, though brilliantly innovative and deeply committed to the welfare of Indians, simplified the science of food further, with indices and correction factors, using concepts like consumption units, biological value of proteins, RDA based on calories, calorie needs of workers, vegetable sources of proteins etc., which then became subjects for scientific research and fed into nutritional policy. Over a short period, these concepts were recast and deployed in administrative initiatives that systematically transformed the diets of the poor in India to plain cereals as the major source, or perhaps the only source of calories, devoid of any other nutrient. The consequences of this cereal overload and nutritional depletion have been far reaching, and are responsible for a large measure of the profile of ill health, and the epidemic of chronic diseases in India.
This presentation is an attempt to trace the steps in scientific and administrative thinking and policy that led to the nutritional and health impasse the people of this country are in.