he 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.
The speaker is Dr. Veena Shatrugna who has spent 34 years at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, doing research on the nutrition questions as they impact women and children in India. She has also worked in the area of women’s health, and has authored “Savaa laksha Sandhehalu”, a self%help book for women in Telugu with a women’s collective called Stree Shakti Sangathana. She has also written “Taking charge of our Bodies” in English with the same group of women. She is a member of Anveshi, a Women’s studies organisation based in Hyderabad.