The Nutrition Transformation: From Undernutrition to Obesity
Over the last three decades, policy interventions have resulted in a decrease in undernourishment by at least ten percentage points. However, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency remain a critical public health challenge, especially in less developed states, while the number of overweight individuals has increased drastically in more developed states over the same period. This increase in the triple burden of malnutrition is a matter of great concern due to its impacts on health and welfare. In this chapter, we present evidence that diversifying diets and increasing income is vital for reducing all types of malnutrition. Within households, improving education and information, behavior change, empowering women and improving access to water, sanitation and health infrastructure are essential to tackle undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity.
In the previous chapter, we have seen that the demand for food per capita, demand for diverse foods and demand for eating out has kept pace with rising per capita incomes. If food systems cannot respond appropriately to the growing demand for nutrients with an adequate supply response, this may reduce the effectiveness of current policy interventions in meeting their goals of lowering undernutrition and hidden hunger. Additionally, in Chaps. 2 and 3, we have seen that forces of ST have led to a divergence in the growth experience across regions and the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. If food systems cannot address the problem of income inequality, this may impact a household’s ability to access and purchase diverse and quality nutrients from markets. These factors have important (negative) implications for the Indian experience.
In this chapter, we explore the food system’s role in reducing the triple burden of malnutrition4 and moving towards a healthier population. We bring forward evidence from the literature that illuminates the pathways through which malnutrition is impacted as well as discuss interventions from India that have been successful in reducing poor nutrition outcomes thus far. We also bring forward evidence from international contexts on other potential interventions available for reducing malnutrition and lay out different options that can help regulate the nutrition transition that we see unfolding in the country today.
5.2 Current State of the Triple Burden of Malnutrition in India
The fourth but important characteristic of the malnutrition problem in India is that it remains a problem for women and children regardless of the level of economic development in the country. Even though multiple interventions have targeted changes to move the indicators on these groups, the stickiness of the problem is reflected both in economic outcomes and in the inequities remaining more or less constant over time. Regarding anemia prevalence, over-nutrition or even undernutrition, the prevalence rates continue to remain the highest for these groups. When women are undernourished, research has found that this leads to low labor productivity, health and economic development of the household. This has negative intergenerational spillovers on the health of children for whom the woman is the major care giver. When children are undernourished in their childhood, this has been linked to poor adult education, health and productivity outcomes (Alderman et al., 2006; Almond & Currie, 2011; Gutierrez, 2013; J. Hoddinott et al., 2008; J. A. Maluccio et al., 2009; Plessow et al., 2015).
5.3 Pathways Towards Better Nutrition Outcomes
In this chapter, we add the effects of the growing incidence of NCDs, rising economic inequality and threats from climate change to the framework. NCDs can directly reduce individuals’ ability to absorb food by impacting their health. If women are more susceptible to health shocks from NCDs, this can worsen the problem of access to nutrition and can also negatively impact children’s health outcomes (Shetty et al., 2012). Increase in NCDs can also lower the productivity of household members, thus impacting how much food there would be available to consume. Exposure to secondary health risks increases the probability of catastrophic health episodes and thus reduces income security of households. An unanticipated health episode is known to be a major risk factor in the impoverishment of households (Krishna, 2011). Rising economic inequality reduces the number of economic opportunities available for households to participate in the process of development. This creates a self-reinforcing vicious cycle of low income and low ST. States with low ST do not have the institutional capacity to implement successful poverty alleviation programs. Given that labor is a major input into agricultural production in these regions, poor health of individuals in these states translates into low agricultural productivity. Poor health also prevents individuals from participating in economic development activities that may be available in high growth states, thus locking individuals and their respective states into a suboptimal equilibrium of poor health and poor economic development. This reduces the ability of states to participate in catch-up growth. Finally, threats from climate change have brought new, unanticipated negative spillovers to economic development, health and agriculture. By increasing uncertainty in agricultural production, climate change threatens to increase food price volatility, decrease access to food for poor households, decrease the nutrient content of crops as well as decrease the health environment.6 These shocks will threaten efforts made towards improving nutrition outcomes. In the next section, we summarize the evidence from the literature with regard to the pathways as well as the experience of these interventions along these pathways in enabling greater nutrition.
5.4 Evidence on Pathways and Their Corresponding Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Interventions
5.4.1 Pathways to Reduce Household Malnutrition Through Diet Diversification
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “Dietary diversity is a qualitative measure of food consumption that reflects household access to a variety of foods, and is also a proxy for nutrient adequacy of the diet of individuals” (Kennedy, Ballard, & Dop, 2011). Diet diversity of households is known to be correlated with better nutrition (Arimond & Ruel, 2004; Busert et al., 2016; J. Hoddinott & Yohannes, 2002; Pingali & Sunder, 2017; Popkin, Horton, Kim, Mahal, & Shuigao, 2001; J. H. Rah et al., 2010). For example, increased dietary diversity has been associated with lower prevalence of hidden hunger and higher nutrient adequacy ratios for individuals (Arimond & Ruel, 2004; Ruel, 2003; Steyn, Nel, Nantel, Kennedy, & Labadarios, 2006). In households with greater consumption of animal-based products such as milk, eggs or meat, children who are not breastfed have lower stunting and wasting as well (Ruel, 2003). Lack of diet diversity has more recently been linked to a higher risk of obesity (Azadbakht & Esmaillzadeh, 2011; Nicklas, Baranowski, Cullen, & Berenson, 2001). Given this close relationship between dietary diversity of households and nutrition outcomes, ensuring that households can access diverse foods requires interventions at two levels. First is to ensure that there is greater availability of food diversity within the local system. The second set of interventions would need to improve the affordability of these diets. In this section, we discuss the various interventions that have been currently implemented in India with regard to improving nutrition by targeting household diet diversity.
22.214.171.124 Improving Access to Food Diversity
Currently, research on the safety net programs such as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and the Public Distribution System (PDS) have shown mixed results regarding their impact on improving household diet diversity. Research on the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) program has shown it to be mildly effective in reducing undernutrition in children and mothers who are beneficiaries of the program. In areas where Anganwadi health workers have been compensated for performance, there has been greater short-term progress in addressing malnutrition (Dubowitz et al., 2007; P. Singh, 2015). Thus having a strong locally oriented health task force has been an important complementary investment required for improving undernutrition outcomes. Evaluations of the MDMS has shown its effectiveness in reducing undernutrition of school-aged children, especially from families who suffered from shocks such as droughts (Singh, Park, & Dercon, 2013). Rahman (2016) and Kishore and Chakrabarti (2015) have linked universal access to the PDS with greater household diet diversity. However, in a study by Kaushal and Muchomba (2015), the author found that PDS access may not have a clear impact on nutrition outcomes. The challenges in implementation that have led to this mixed evidence on their impact will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter.
On the other end of the malnutrition burden, research has shown that rising obesity and NCD prevalence has been linked to consumption of excessive carbohydrates and sugar in diets. Staple grain crops and sugar crops have been long favored by agricultural and PDS procurement policies in the country. By artificially keeping consumption prices low, experts have speculated that this has led to overconsumption of these foods in diets. According to Arora, Pillai, Dasgupta, and Garg (2014) increased consumption of sugar and fat products in diets is a major risk factor in explaining the rise in obesity in India. Anjana et al. (2015) found that increased intake of refined cereals was highly correlated with increased diabetes incidence especially when time spent on sedentary activities (such as watching television and sitting) was high and abdominal obesity was high. Shrivastava, Misra, Mohan, Unnikrishnan, and Bachani (2017) have found evidence that South Asians consumed more calories from carbohydrates and their foods had a greater glycemic index compared to their European counterparts. These dietary patterns have been linked to greater NCD risks. However, research in this area is new and needs to be further developed. In addition, given that it is a new phenomenon, interventions have not yet been incorporated into policy making.
Micronutrient deficiency (hidden hunger) is the third component of the triple burden that has been linked to lower diet diversity of households. At various points in the country’s history, the nutrition department has run information campaigns on better diets and nutrition. A cross-sectional study on the effectiveness of advertisement campaigns on purchasing iodized salt found that it reduced undernutrition of children, but the authors found the effects to be very small (S. Kumar & Berkman, 2015). In the 1990s, famous national advertising campaigns that encouraged the consumption of milk and eggs became a part of nutritional messaging in the country. Even though knowledge about the benefits of these products grew, there have been no experimental evaluations of the impact of these information and communication programs on household diet diversity or nutritional outcomes thus far. In the chapter on policy (11), we discuss the possibility of introducing laws for increasing food safety, fortification of foods and biofortification of crops as methods to improve access to micronutrients in food at the economy level and hence at the household level.
126.96.36.199 Increasing Household Incomes
When the level of income or the number of employment-generating opportunities that households have access to is low and the probability that households are impacted by productivity shocks is high, households faced greater income insecurity. By reducing the ability of households to plan ahead and thus purchase diverse foods from markets, income insecurity reduces the affordability of nutritious diets and thus increases malnutrition. In households from more developed states in India, greater income security (incomes per capita) and more market access (greater employment opportunities) have been found to be correlated with higher dietary diversity and lower levels of undernutrition (Koppmair, Kassie, & Qaim, 2017; Sibhatu, Krishna, & Qaim, 2015). Agricultural households from these areas too have greater income-generating capability and hence better access to nutritious foods and hence better nutrition outcomes. In lagging states in India, agricultural households are more likely to consume food from their own farms (P. Pingali, Mittra, & Rahman, 2017). Research from other similar subsistence agriculture contexts has shown that access to home gardens or livestock related livelihood opportunities can improve diet diversity and nutrition in such contexts (Ali, Ahmed, & Islam, 2008; Berti, Krasevec, & FitzGerald, 2004; Jones, Shrinivas, & Bezner-Kerr, 2014; Masset, Leroy, & Frongillo, 2007).
Looking at effective interventions across the country, commercialization of the agricultural production system is an important pathway to increase ST, reduce rural poverty and reduce rural malnutrition. In order to enable greater commercialization, reducing transaction costs in participating supply chains (Abraham & Pingali, 2017) as well as strengthening the participation of the retail sector in procurement and distribution of foods from small farms is an important way forward (Boselie, Henson, & Weatherspoon, 2003; Reardon, Timmer, & Minten, 2012; Thomas Reardon & Minten, 2011).8 As seen in Chap. 3, non-farm incomes and remittances from migrants have also been found to play an important role in increasing income security and diet diversity as well as reducing malnutrition in rural households (Babatunde & Qaim, 2010; Binswanger-Mkhize, 2012; Imai, Gaiha, & Thapa, 2015; Owusu, Abdulai, & Abdul-Rahman, 2011; Benjamin, Reardon, Stamoulis, & Winters, 2002; Binswanger-Mkhize, 2013). Also, interventions that reduce costs of migrating, rural infrastructure projects that increase access to urban markets and rural development programs that stimulate local markets can thus alleviate malnutrition by increasing household incomes. In urban areas as well, income per capita, permanent employment opportunities and better-quality urban infrastructure are known to be correlated with greater diet diversity as well as lower undernutrition. However, there is very little research on the pathways that impact urban food (in)security (Maxwell, 1999). Moving forward, urbanization trends in India will reconfigure the importance of urban food security in the nutrition debates. Developing interventions that focus on improving urban food security will become important as we look ahead.
The second pathway that reduces the affordability of nutritious diets and thus increases household-level malnutrition is unanticipated shocks to household productivity. In this regard, poor households are more likely to be impacted by unanticipated catastrophic events such as health, weather or food price shocks. This increases their vulnerability and thus impacts malnutrition. Research has shown that in the absence of appropriate financial tools to hedge against short-term production risks, crop price shocks tend to translate into worse malnutrition outcomes of households (Bellemare, 2015; De Brauw, 2011; Ivanic & Martin, 2008; R. T. Jensen & Miller, 2008). For example, in Nicaragua, undernutrition in children worsened when incomes of small farmer households growing coffee were hurt by price shocks from the international coffee markets (Maluccio, 2005). In other instances, weather-related shocks such as lower rainfall or longer droughts have been found to worsen nutrition outcomes of both children and adults. For example, famines caused by extended periods of drought have been linked to a reduction in the long-term productivity of adults who experienced these shocks when they were in utero. Providing adequate protection through crop or weather insurance is thus important towards ensuring that households are protected against lower nutrition outcomes. Health shocks can be devastating for household food security and nutritional outcomes (Strauss & Thomas, 1998; R. M. Townsend, 1994, 1995; Asfaw & Braun, 2004). Krishna (2011) has documented an unanticipated health shock to the breadwinner of the family can impoverish households. In the short term, health spending can increase household debt, thus reducing household access to nutritious foods. In the long run, the productivity of households can reduce if children are taken out of school to work or women have to participate in labor markets that pay them lower wages.
At the economy level, structural transformation and economic growth has led to changing preferences in diets and has increased opportunity costs of home food preparation (due to rising wages). These phenomena have been correlated with greater demand for eating diverse foods and eating more processed foods available at supermarkets and restaurants (Pingali, 2006; Popkin, 1999, 2003).9 These changes are reflected both in the growth in expenditure shares in household spending on non-staples, such as milk, eggs and meat relative to staples, and in the greater demand for eating out (Gaiha, Jha, & Kulkarni, 2013). While many of these dietary changes have been linked to lower undernutrition and hidden hunger outcomes, Anjana et al. (2015) found that increased intake of refined cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and monounsaturated fatty acid was correlated with increased diabetes when sedentary activities and abdominal obesity of individuals was also high. There is some evidence to show that greater income per capita has increased the consumption sugary and fat-based products (Gaiha et al., 2013; V. Gupta, Downs, Ghosh-Jerath, Lock, & Singh, 2016; P. Pingali, 2006). Consumption of these types of foods has been associated with greater obesity incidence. Also, Arora et al. (2014) argue that doubling in the per capita consumption of these products over the last 15 years can be correlated with increases in obesity in the country. However obesity is still a new phenomenon in India. Hence there has been very little research done so far to understand the income effects of food demand on obesity in the country. Also thus far the obesity phenomenon is largely urban and is linked to higher incomes per capita, but research from developed country contexts finds that as the difference in incomes per capita increases, obesity incidence becomes a burden for poorer populations. In the absence of a food system that accounts for this issue of access, obesity becomes a major threat to future health systems.
5.4.2 Pathways to Reduce Individual Malnutrition by Improving Access
Across India and in all types of malnutrition indicators, women and children do far worse than the adult males. Within the same household as well, it is common to see that women, children or older-age adults are more malnourished than the adult male or breadwinner. Even between children, boys are known to have better nutrition outcomes than girls. There are two major explanations for the intra-household variation in malnutrition outcomes. First, observable traits such as gender, age, education and labor force participation often determine who has access to nutrition within households. Households tend to invest their scarce resources towards individuals who have the highest potential to improve household welfare. Even if not directly observed, intra-household dynamics such as bargaining power, time use patterns and cultural beliefs and practices can also create unanticipated trade-offs between household members and thus moderate their access to food and nutrition. Even in completely egalitarian and altruistic households, the health environment often plays a role in increasing morbidity and sickness. Combined with age, health stock of individuals and their access to food, a poor health environment creates barriers to nutrient absorption. Lack of water or sanitation facilities and high incidence of communicable diseases increase morbidity of children and hence reduce their ability to access nutrition. For older adults, age and susceptibility to NCDs also increases morbidity and hence affects their nutrition outcomes. These factors contribute to intra-household dynamics that result in nutrition outcomes that differ across individuals who live within the same household.
188.8.131.52 Inducing Positive Nutrition Behaviors Within Households
Within households, nutrition disparities are the outcome of six important channels. One, in many poor agricultural households, the low opportunity cost of time, reflected by low (agricultural) wages of women and girls relative to men and boys, creates a nutrition-productivity spiral in favor of the men and at the expense of women. This problem is particularly harsh in income-constrained households where members may allocate more market work to the higher-paid members, thus reinforcing a productivity nutrition trade-off in their favor (J. R. Behrman & Deolalikar, 1993, 1990; Deolalikar, 1988). These trade-offs become salient when households experience income shocks. For example, nutritional outcomes of women and girl children worsen when there are agriculture-related shocks such as droughts or floods, during price shocks and during labor market shocks such as health shocks, migration-related shocks and economic downturns (Agüero & Marks, 2011; Akresh, Verwimp, & Bundervoet, 2011; Alderman et al., 2006; Baez & Santos, 2007; D’Souza & Jolliffe, 2013; del Ninno & Lundberg, 2005; Ferreira & Schady, 2009; J. Hoddinott, 2006; R. Jensen, 2000). Two, women are often relegated to household tasks such as water and firewood collection or threshing and harvesting on the fields. These tasks are energy intensive, but they are undervalued in the market (H. R. Barrett et al., 2005; Kadiyala, Harris, Headey, Yosef, & Gillespie, 2014). Even though there is no strong evidence that malnutrition outcomes of children worsen when mothers go back to work, women maybe expected to stay home and involve themselves in child care (Bennett, 1988; Glick & Sahn, 1998; Kes & Swaminathan, 2006; Leslie, 1988). These services too are undervalued and thus women’s (girls) household contributions tend to be undervalued in favor of men (boys) thus reducing access. Studies from Mexico have found that changing returns to household work through cash transfers for girl children can be one way to help reduce their time spent on household work and to keep them in schools (Parker & Skoufias, 2000). Three, Jayachandran and Pande (2017) found the oldest male child within a household had better nutrition-related outcomes compared to similar children in Africa. However, any other child (with a higher birth order) fared worse than a comparable group of children from the same context. Hoddinott and Kinsey (2001) and Maccini and Yang (2009) also found that when there were rainfall shocks, within the same household, girls’ malnutrition and schooling outcomes worsened in relation to boys’ malnutrition outcomes. Thus discriminatory practices based on birth order of gender often lead to different nutrition outcomes between groups of children within the same households. Four, intra-household bargaining literature shows that when women have more bargaining power within households nutritional outcomes of all members improve. For example, when households are headed by women rather than men, the nutrition outcomes of children are better in the former even if their incomes were lower on average (Headey, 2013; C. Johnson & Rogers, 1993). Multiple authors have found that women’s education is a powerful channel through which household malnutrition, as well as intergenerational health outcomes of children, can improve (Case & Ardington, 2006; Currie & Moretti, 2003; Oreopoulos, Page, & Stevens, 2006; Thomas, Strauss, & Henriques, 1991). Intra-household bargaining power of women is also reflected in the amount of freedom they have to control resources when they belong to male-dominated households. Multiple researchers have found that increase in empowerment of women within households, represented by greater financial control and more physical mobility outside the home, played an important role in improving child nutrition indicators (Imai, Annim, Kulkarni, & Gaiha, 2014; Shroff, Griffiths, Adair, Suchindran, & Bentley, 2009; M. R. Shroff et al., 2011). Thus increasing women’s education, bargaining power and empowering women to take decisions within households will be important towards decreasing intra-household disparities. Five, within households, it can also be the case that households may not have proper information on nutritional behaviors that can impact malnutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa, evaluations of behavior change communication programs on breastfeeding have been found to be effective in increasing knowledge, duration of breastfeeding and health outcomes especially for babies whose mothers are HIV positive (Coovadia et al., 2007; Thior et al., 2006). Interventions such as the distribution of vitamin A and iron tablets in India have been unsuccessful in reducing micronutrient deficiency since households lack information on the benefits of following treatment protocols properly. Six, cultural practices often prevent women and children from accessing the necessary care from interventions that are focused on improving their health. In some cases, cultural beliefs about the micronutrients’ effects on health play a role in reducing whether women and children continue treatment. For example, in India, Nichter (2008) found that women were discouraged to take iron supplements since midwives from the villages believed it would increase the size of the baby in utero and thus increase complications for child mortality in women who were giving birth. However, the flip side to the argument was that women who were anemic were highly susceptible to maternal mortality risks. Changing these behaviors require education interventions for all household members, informational campaigns about the importance of nutrition and economic growth policies that are inclusive.
Programs such as the ICDS focus on addressing malnutrition by providing pregnant women and new mothers with reproductive healthcare such as ante-natal checkups, nutrition supplements such as iron tablets, nutritious meals and information on managing nutrition intake during their pregnancies. For newborn children, the ICDS provides post-natal care, monitors anthropometric health of newborn children and educate mothers on the importance of breastfeeding and eating healthy. Information on nutrition supplements and nutrition intake for children are also provided to new mothers with the view to change behavior. Evaluations of these programs have found that iron-related nutrition outcomes of children improved after women were educated on the same (Kapur, Sharma, & Agarwal, 2003). With regard to undernutrition, additional interventions such as encouraging early initiation of breastfeeding practices were found to be more effective than just providing individuals with more information on nutrition practices (Kumar, Goel, Mittal, & Misra, 2006). Introduction of complementary feeding practices along with breastfeeding was found to be associated with better nutrition outcomes for children in some areas as well (Menon, Bamezai, Subandoro, Ayoya, & Aguayo, 2015). In states such as Maharashtra, regular monitoring of babies and mothers and strict protocols to identify and treat groups that are at high risk of malnutrition have played an important role in reducing its severity. Greater citizen involvement has also been thought to be the key motivation for creating efficient systems in Maharashtra. The MDMS program, on the other hand, has been found to be an extremely cost-effective program in improving nutrition outcomes of students. Afridi (2010) found that for less than Rs. 20 a day, a child attending a school with access to MDMS reduced their daily dietary calorie deficiency by 30%, iron deficiency by 10% and reduced protein deficiency by 100%.
India has some of the world’s worst rates of anemia for men, women and children, and this burden exists across states and economic development outcomes in the country. Anemia has been linked to the lack of micronutrient availability in diets and is known to have many long-term negative health effects on individuals as well. Many interventions implemented by the health department in India have focused on improving the last mile access with regard to micronutrients. For example, distribution of vitamin A and iron capsules for pregnant women and babies have long been part of the strategy to improve reproductive and child health in the country. However, there have not been many rigorous evaluations of these programs. For example, Semba et al. (2010) found some evidence that vitamin A interventions in India did reduce child undernutrition, especially wasting in children. However, the effects were modest at best. In cases where it has worked, experts have shown that there are significant improvements to child health. Adhvaryu and Nyshadham (2016) found that when children were exposed to iodine supplementations in utero, they were more like to have better health and cognitive outcomes compared to a sibling who was not exposed.
The other important and growing phenomenon in the malnutrition burden is obesity incidence. A systematic review of the nature of obesity within households reveals that in less developed countries, obesity is an outcome of income and is equally prevalent between men and women in rich households. However, greater economic development becomes associated with obesity of women in the lower income strata, but male obesity tended to more malleable to economic growth (Dinsa, Goryakin, Fumagalli, & Suhrcke, 2012). In these contexts, obesity of women is also associated with a higher premium in labor markets regarding reduced wages as well as greater health spending (Cawley, 2004, 2010). These effects are known to spill over on poor health outcomes that have negative effects for both women and their children. In India, S. Gulati et al. (2013) find that socio-economic indicators and the lack of knowledge on obesity explain the high overweight rates of girls and boys in urban schools. However, other than the income and information pathways, there is very little known about why women and children may be susceptible to obesity in the country. Given its challenges for health, this becomes an extremely crucial investment area as we think ahead to improve nutrition outcomes.
184.108.40.206 Improving Nutrient Absorption by Investing in the Health Environment
Poor nutrition and a poor health environment have an endogenous relationship. Among the factors that increase this vulnerability are the age of the individual and their health stock. Children who are undernourished or anemic, for example, are more susceptible to diseases in the health environment (Horton & Ross, 2003; Thakur, Chandra, Pemde, & Singh, 2014). Similarly, children who have higher morbidity have worse malnutrition outcomes (Clasen et al., 2014; Miguel & Kremer, 2015). This endogeneity reinforces the problem of poor nutrient absorption for children. A poor health environment can be an outcome of low quality of drinking water, inadequate sewerage facilities, proximity to fecal contamination by livestock and humans and poor hygiene in water and sanitation practices. As disease burden increases in the surrounding areas, constant exposure to disease reduces individuals’ ability to absorb nutrition from foods that they eat.
5.5 Challenges for the Future
There are three additional challenges for the triple burden of malnutrition as we look ahead to 2050. The first challenge is tackling the rising incidence of NCDs. As per the report (MoHFW, 2017), nearly 62% of all deaths in the country are due to NCDs. This number has nearly doubled in the last two decades. Urbanized states have the highest DALYs10 from premature deaths while lagging states have the lowest this far. NCDs account for 35% of premature deaths of individuals between the ages of 15 and 39 and 74% of all deaths for individuals between the ages of 40 and 69 in the country. Among the NCDs, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes explain more than 80% of all deaths. DALYs from diabetes incidence has increased by 80% and unhealthy diets, higher blood pressure, high cholesterol and overweight now account for 25% of risk associated with NCDs.11 Urbanized states have seen the greatest increase in NCDs and also have the highest increases in obesity incidence (MoHFW, 2017). Given demographic projections for the future, increasing trends for urbanization and increasing incidence of obesity, there is a credible threat that NCDs will become a liability for health systems as well look ahead. This will not only impact malnutrition outcomes; it will lead to a reduction in the productivity of individuals as well as lower economic growth outcomes in the long run.
The second major threat comes from climate change. Changing rainfall patterns, an increase in the number of heat days and increased air and water pollution will worsen the health environment. By reducing access to essential resources such as water and increasing disease burden, climate change will increase the risks for malnutrition. Current research has shown that air and water pollution too can directly impact the health environment and thus health and mortality. Climatic risk factors will also directly impact the rate of incidence of NCDs and hence pose a further threat to progress made towards improving health (Kjellstrom, Holmer, & Lemke, 2009; Majra & Gur, 2009; Myers et al., 2017; Patz, Campbell-Lendrum, Holloway, & Foley, 2005; Watts et al., 2015). Through the agricultural system, climate change also threatens to impact nutrition by reducing food availability and nutrient content in crops. Literature has suggested that women and children will be more vulnerable as climate change threatens access to water and other natural resources which occupy Cooperative Marketing Federation (much of the time use patterns for these groups. All these factors will further reduce the effectiveness of interventions currently designed to address malnutrition.
The third challenge is the problem of growing income inequality across geographical space and incomes. The malnutrition transformation predicts that as incomes increase, undernutrition first decreases and is followed by an increase in over-nutrition. However, with higher levels of development, greater income inequality leads to over-nutrition incidence transitioning away from the rich towards a problem of the poor and less privileged. This transition is driven by increased access to unhealthy processed foods from supermarkets, higher opportunity costs related to home meal preparation as well as greater demand for diet diversity. In India, we are in the process of moving towards high over-nutrition even before we have successfully tackled the problem of undernutrition. This transition can be explained by both the growing income inequality within the country as well as the limited success of current interventions to tackle the undernutrition problem. Given that some states will progress more quickly towards completing their ST, guiding their economies away from a malnutrition transition through appropriate policy interventions that are best suited to the development experiences of the states will be important as we look ahead.
Similar to the experience of other countries that have undergone a greater structural transformation, India has made progress towards reducing hunger and reducing undernutrition as it emerges into the global stage. Over the last three decades, the country has managed to reduce undernutrition by at least ten percentage points across all individuals. However, tackling micronutrient deficiency continues to remain a challenge for policy makers. Anemia rates of children and women have remained stubbornly high and are still comparable to those in sub-Saharan African countries, which themselves have been on a lower transformation pathway. Much of the progress made towards tackling this problem has now been marred by the fast increasing rates of overweight individuals. This new phenomenon has blindsided policy efforts. While one may be tempted to argue that increasing obesity may itself represent the role of fast rising incomes (as experienced by many other countries), its rate of increase and its indirect effects on non-communicable diseases are extremely concerning. NCDs currently explain around 62% of all deaths in India, a doubling of the rate since the early 2000s. Much of the increase in NCDs has come from diseases such as heart conditions and diabetes which are closely related to issues of food access and malnutrition. This abrupt shift in the distribution of the triple burden of malnutrition is unprecedented, and experts and policy makers have become concerned about its impacts for the health of individuals both in the short term and the long term. In the short term, malnutrition has been found to lower labor productivity and reduce household food security. In the long term, growing numbers of unhealthy populations place a large public health burden on the Indian health system to deliver health services. This may affect the potential for long-term economic development.
Through this chapter, we provide an account of the pathways through which malnutrition can be reduced. We identify four such pathways using a food systems approach. At the household level, access to diverse diets and income security play a major role with regard to increasing food security and reducing malnutrition. Research has shown that helping households diversify their diets by increasing access to diverse foods through markets as well as increasing income and livelihood opportunities is important for tackling malnutrition. For obesity reduction as well, having access to nutritious diets, reducing overconsumption of calories from sugar as well as increasing income security, will play an important role. Within the household, intra-household dynamics with regards to food access and the quality of the surrounding health environment determine an individual’s ability to absorb nutrition from food. Women and children in households are thus especially vulnerable to malnutrition compared to men. Research from developed country contexts suggests that these dynamics play out obesity risks as well. Higher obesity has been found to be associated with poor economic outcomes and lower intergenerational health for women. Spillovers from increasing obesity rates often impact incidence and mortality related to NCDs as well. Thus, improving welfare in the future involves a continued commitment towards the reduction of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, as well as increasing commitment towards reducing risk factors for obesity and thus NCDs.
In this chapter, we present evidence on the success of various interventions that have been implemented in India to tackle the issue of malnutrition. Our chapter also highlights areas where more research or evidence is required to understand how malnutrition can be reduced. For example, we show that there is very little known on the pathways through which obesity can be reduced. Similarly, though there have been many interventions to reduce hidden hunger or micronutrient deficiencies, there is little known on what has worked or not. Also, we discuss the importance of investing in other channels for reducing undernutrition such as reducing communicable disease incidence through vaccinations and increasing access to clean and safe drinking water. We also highlight the differences in the national and regional policy responses to the nutrition issue and argue that a decentralized approach is now more relevant in tackling malnutrition. For example, we propose that discussions on reducing obesity need to become more important in the food policy debates in urbanizing states , while their agricultural policies need to focus on increasing rural income security. In lagging states on the other hand, food and agricultural policy needs to remain focused on reducing undernutrition and hidden hunger. In addition, we highlight the risks that climate change, rising NCDs and regional inequality pose to tackling malnutrition. These phenomena, we argue, increase health systems risks associated with malnutrition and will derail progress made towards achieving better health if not addressed. Thus achieving the goal for nutrition security for the future will require interventions that simultaneously tackle the multiple challenges that impact the triple burden of malnutrition.
In the previous chapter, we use the definition of the nutrition transition as described in Popkin (1997), which refers to the dietary transformation that are related to ST. In this chapter the nutrition transformation refers to the changing burden of nutrition-related health problems that constitute the triple burden of malnutrition—we build on the Griffiths and Bentley (2001) conceptualization here.
At its broadest level, undernourished individuals are those who do not have access to one or more essential nutrients in their diets. Being undernourished, represented by individuals who are either underweight (too thin for their age), wasted (too thin for their height and age) or stunted (too short for their age) compared to a well-nourished reference population, is one type of undernourishment. Another type of undernourishment is called hidden hunger. This manifests itself as deficiencies of essential micronutrients such as vitamins or minerals in the human body.
Over-nourished individuals, on the other hand, are those who consume an excess of a particular macronutrient—calories in particular. This condition is represented by overweight and obesity outcomes which are determined by the age, gender, height and weight of the individual in relation to a similar well-nourished group.
The triple burden of malnutrition encapsulates the coexistence of a large number of undernourished individuals side by side with over-nourished people in the presence of high levels of micronutrient deficiencies within a given population. At its broadest level, undernourished individuals are those who do not have access to one or more essential nutrients in their diets. Being undernourished manifests itself as individuals who are either underweight (too thin for their age), wasted (too thin for their height and age) or stunted (too short for their age) compared to a well-nourished reference population. Calorie deprivation and protein energy deficiency are some of the major causes of this type of undernourishment. Another type of undernourishment is called hidden hunger. This manifests itself as deficiencies of essential nutrients such as vitamins or minerals called micronutrients. Diseases such as anemia, night blindness, rickets, scurvy and so on are outcomes of these deficiencies. Over-nourished individuals on the other hand are those who consume an excess of a particular macronutrient, calories in particular. This condition is represented by overweight and obesity outcomes.
Most of the improvements came from moving people out of the severely malnourished cases into the moderately malnourished.
More evidence on these factors can be found in the chapter on climate change.
These factors are discussed in more detail in Chap. 7.
This will be discussed in Chap. 8.
See Chap. 4 for discussion on patterns and factors of this phenomenon.
DALYS—Disability Adjusted Life Years—years of healthy life lost due to premature death and suffering. DALYS = years of life lost + years lived with disability.
The latter has increased from 10% in the 1990s.
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