"I am pleased to participate in this valedictory session of the international conference on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, being organized to mark the completion of centenary celebrations of National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).
Working under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research, NIN has earned global reputation for its pioneering work as India’s premier nutrition research institute.
It is fascinating to note its growth from a one-room laboratory set up by Sir Robert McCarrison in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu in 1918. The Institute initially known as the Beri-beri Enquiry Unit, grew step-by-step into a full-fledged Nutrition Research Laboratories (NRL). Subsequently, it was shifted to Hyderabad in 1958 and renamed as the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in 1969 during its Golden Jubilee Year.
During its 100 long years, NIN has contributed significantly to nutrition science and public health in India. Its broad-based research activities encompass the whole area of food and nutrition and provide a multi-disciplinary perspective with scientists drawn from diverse backgrounds from pediatrics to statistics.
I am happy to note that NIN has achieved a close integration of its research activities with the needs of the community. I have always been emphasizing that research should focus on solving people’s problems and that scientists should focus on areas that impact the quality of life of people. This assumes far greater importance when the institution is dealing with a vital subject like the nutrition, which impacts the well being of people of all ages.
As regards NIN’s role in the realm of public health nutrition in the country, I am aware that some of the on-going national nutrition programmes, which aim to eliminate iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin A deficiency and iodine deficiency disorders among vulnerable groups of population, have been formulated largely based on NIN’s research.
The formulation of nutrition norms for several large-scale food supplementary programmes like the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-day Meal (MDM) or state specific programmes are also based on this Institute’s research outcomes.
I would also like to compliment NIN for developing Double Fortified Salt (DFS) technology to combat the twin problems of Iodine deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. I am told that the technology has been successfully transferred to the industry and DFS is being used in many supplementary nutrition programmes across the country.
With constantly changing food environment, increasing nutrition awareness and health information, there has been a demand for a scientifically authenticated database of many foods. I am happy to note that NIN has not only been fulfilling this requirement since the first Indian food composition data were released in 1930s, but also revising the databases from time-to-time.
The last revision was done in the 1980s and popularly known as the Nutritive Value of Indian Foods. I am told that this has been the single source of reference for nutritive values of various foods and effectively put to use by the academics, researchers, policy makers, food industry and Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The "Indian Food Compositional Tables, 2017" recently released by NIN is the most updated database on Indian foods.
I am glad that NIN through its operational research is helping many state governments to evaluate various nutrition programmes and identify areas for corrective measures.
I am told that as part of food safety, NIN is also engaged in research related to pesticide toxicity, its residues in foods, food borne illnesses, fluoride toxicity and mitigation.
Dear sisters and brothers, completion of 100 years for any institution is a major milepost. This momentous occasion no doubt calls for celebrating your achievements. At the same time, you must introspect and recast your priorities keeping in view the nutrition scenario in the country.
We in India have a number of nutritional challenges. India was ranked 103 among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index of 2018.
As nutrition scientists, I would like you to accord the highest priority to eliminate the triple burden of malnutrition comprising under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (hidden hunger). Remember that India is also facing the phenomenon of nutrition transition (shifts in dietary patterns due to economic development, modernization and urbanization) and the alarming rise in non-communicable diseases. It is indeed paradoxical that we are facing lifestyle disorders, including obesity, on the one hand and malnutrition on the other.
I hope you are ensuring that your research is aligned with National Nutrition Mission (NNM) which seeks to improve the nutritional indicators of children and pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Although successive governments have rolled out many schemes, including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Mid Day Meal programme, malnutrition is still prevalent in the country. I think the time has come for scientists, policymakers and planners to adopt new strategies to tackle the problem of malnutrition.
No doubt, it is difficult to bring about a change in the age-old dietary habits of the people. This is where the role of communicators is crucial in changing people’s behaviour and perhaps the local community needs to be involved in conveying the message effectively at the grass roots level so that nutritious food is consumed.
NIN must also look at newer vistas to make India a truly healthy nation. Although, under-nutrition in the form of stunting and wasting has been on the decline, I feel it is somehow not commensurate with the efforts put in by the Governments. Of course, the infant mortality rate over the years has come down.
As stated earlier, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases are on the rise. The figures mentioned in NIN’s urban report indicate a worrisome trend which needs to be reversed. The report revealed that over 33% of men and 44% of women in urban areas (16 states) are overweight or obese. Similarly, about 20% of urban population is suffering from Diabetes Mellitus and more than 25 per cent is hypertensive.
The non-communicable diseases are no more confined to affluent communities and making inroads into rural areas as well. More than 10% of rural population is also diabetic and hypertensive.
Indeed, nearly two thirds of the world’s population with diabetes currently lives in low- and middle-income regions, including India. In many cases, the same cohort of individuals or communities, that were once grappling with the issues of under nutrition are today at the brink of nutrition transition.
Malnutrition in its various forms still is a looming threat to our development. Promoting dietary diversity has to go hand-in-hand with creating nutrition literacy.
All of you need to work towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. According to UNDP, the aim of SDGs is to ensure that all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round.
With two-thirds of most hungry people living in Asia, the need of the hour is to promote sustainable agricultural practices to ensure food security.
Here, I would like to recall that renowned scientist, Prof. M S Swaminathan has been emphasizing the need for India to shift its focus from food security to nutrition security. Pointing out that attention should not only be paid to calories but also proteins and micronutrients, he called for eradication of three kinds of hunger — protein hunger, caused by deficiency of protein; calorie hunger, caused by deficiency of calories, and hidden hunger caused by deficiency of micronutrients such as iodine and iron. As suggested by him, agriculture, health and nutrition should be brought together in a triangular relationship.
As scientists, you also need to create awareness among the people on the health hazards of extensive use of pesticides in agriculture as also the deleterious effects of pesticides entering the food chain.
I would also like to compliment NIN for organizing an international conference on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). According to the World Health Organization, EDCs and potential EDCs are mostly man-made and found in various materials such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products.
EDCs can disrupt many different hormones and are suspected to be associated with numerous adverse human health outcomes, including altered reproductive functions and certain cancers. In view of the scanty data on EDCs from India, I am sure this conference will widen the knowledge base and provide new insights to combat the health problems associated with them.
NIN should also tie up with agricultural research institutes to cultivate and promote foods that suit specifically to each region.
Before concluding, let me congratulate the director, scientists, staff and former directors for the pioneering work done by NIN. My best wishes to all of you to realize the Institute’s vision of achieving optimal nutrition of vulnerable segments of population such as women of reproductive age, children, adolescent girls and the elderly by 2020.