The two-day South Asia conference on nutrition, currently on in Delhi, began on a controversial note on Wednesday. Some of the public health experts attending the conference under the aegis of Alliance Against Conflict of Interest (AACI) objected to the Indian health ministry hosting the event in collaboration with agencies funded by companies that promote unhealthy food.
“If [Indian] government engages with organisations who take funds from companies responsible for unhealthy practices, then how do we expect it to take action against them?” asked
Amit Sengupta of non-profit Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
Activists alleged that the conference—South Asia Conference on Policies and Practices to Improve Nutrition Security—has partners which receive funding from private companies like Pepsi, Coca Cola and Britannia. “The government has established Reproductive, Maternal, New Born Child Health Coalition. That also has organisations which are funded by such interests,” said Arun Gupta, convener of the Alliance and regional coordinator of advocacy group International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).
The Alliance also pointed out that India had issued a statement in this year’s World Health Assembly held in May where it had cautioned nations about indirect funding from industry harming human health.
The Alliance has demanded that the government bring in a strong legislation to prevent direct and indirect conflicts of interest in public policy making. It has also demanded regulation of marketing of processed and unhealthy foods by food corporations.
Study on WSB++
The conference was also marked by a significant presentation on Wheat Soy Blend Plus Plus (WSB++), a supplementary food for reducing malnutrition among children which is being promoted by the World Food Programme of the United Nations.
WSB++ has shown good results in Africa. But a study conducted in parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh found that weight gain among children from these areas was not up to the mark.
“In our trial study we found that the family of the undernourished child replaces usual ration meant for children with supplementary food. This is not a good practice,” said Charulata Banerjee, regional advisor with Terre des Homes, the organisation that conducted the study.
The study was conducted among moderate acute malnourished (MAM) children from June-Dec 2013. It showed that children in India and Bangladesh gained 1.8 gm per 1 kg. In Africa it was much higher at 3.2 gm per kg. “Our study showed that even if there was weight gain among MAM children, an important criterion, it was not good enough. Ours is a limited study. But it indicates that we have to conduct proper trials among South Asian population before pushing WSB++ as a supplement to food,” said Banerjee.