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India’s first nutrition atlas goes online

India’s first ever nutritional atlas goes live online, thanks to Telangana’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).

An essential tool

NIN, Hyderabad. Photo credit: Laldharwaja, via Wikimedia Commons
The National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.                    (Photo credit: Laldharwaja, via Wikimedia Commons)

In an exclusive interview with Health Issues India, Dr M. Vishnu Vardhana Rao of the NIN says he hopes that the atlas will useful to “policy makers, programme managers, researchers, media, students and other stakeholders.” Given the serious malnutrition situation in the country, it could be an essential tool.

The Hyderabad-based research centre took the data resource live at the beginning of September. The launch followed what Telangana Today calls a “painstaking exercise of collecting and collating public data from several sources for close to two years.”

Speaking to Health Issues India, Dr Vardhana Rao says the atlas brings together “important nutrition and health indicators in one place.” It includes “the prevalence, incidences of various nutrition and health parameters…at country level, state and district level.” It also includes “recommended dietary allowances, signs and symptoms and dietary sources.”

India’s dual burden of disease

Bowl of rice on Indian flag, malnutrition/poverty concept.
India has been called the hunger and malnutrition capital of the world

The resource addresses India’s “dual burden of disease” in terms of nutrition. This refers to the coexistence of malnourishment and obesity in large numbers throughout the country.

A study published in The Lancet last year found that India has more underweight people than any other country in the world. It also has the fifth highest number of obese people. Both are issues with severe implications for India’s healthcare system, in both the short and long term.

India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people as of 2014-16, according to the 2015 State of Food Security report. This amounts to nearly a quarter of the world total, as well as 15.2 percent of India’s population.

Undernourishment in India is of particular concern to its child population. One in four children in India are malnourished. Just one in ten of Indian infants aged between six and 23 months receives an adequate diet. Poor diet-related illnesses kill 3,000 Indian children each day.

Obesity a growing problem

Obesity, meanwhile, is a growing problem in the country. As previously reported by Health Issues India, the country’s number of obese citizens currently stands at 20 million. This is predicted to double in the next five years.

India’s obese population is increasing in number – a worrying trend for the future, as obese people are at significantly greater risk of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes

Obesity can have a number of deadly health effects. It increases the risk of numerous non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, diabetes, multiple forms of cancer and heart disease.

The strain of NCDs is already being felt by India’s health systems. The country’s burden of noncommunicable disease is rising, as NCDs supplant infectious diseases as the country’s leading causes of death. The main killer (both in India and globally) is heart disease, recent statistics show. One person dies of a heart attack in India every 33 seconds,

Other NCDs continue to be on the uptick. For example, the number of cancer deaths in India is expected to reach 13.1 million a year by 2030. Diabetes is also rapidly becoming more prevalent, not only among the rich but also among the urban poor.

This is worrisome as it is India’s impoverished population who lack the financial resources needed to manage a long-term condition such as diabetes. This could well leave them susceptible to the host of complications diabetes can incur when left untreated.

A “multi-sectoral” approach to nutrition needed

In terms of nutrition, India is a country of both excesses and deficiencies. This necessitates, in the words of The Pioneer, “a multi-sectoral nutritional approach.” This is where the NIN’s nutritional atlas could prove valuable.

The atlas includes among its resources various interactive maps, graphs and statistics. These are drawn from various national and international sources. They offer valuable insight into issues as stunting, wasting, anaemia, tuberculosis and obesity. Such data is offered at both the national and the state level.

These resources provide a detailed and often stark overview of India’s nutritional issues. The clear and compact presentation of vital demographic and epidemiological information is an invaluable asset. If properly used, the nutritional atlas could well engender a much-needed targeted approach, which could help in solving the nutritional issues dogging and impeding India’s progress in public health.

Dr Vardhana Rao says that the portal is “dynamic and updations of the data will be carried out every week/month/quarterly or beyond”, as soon as new data becomes available.

The nutritional atlas can be accessed here.

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