Indian diets are unhealthy: EAT-Lancet report

The report compared food consumption patterns in India with a reference diet from the EAT-Lancet Commission

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 11 June 2020

Indian diets — across states, income groups and rural and urban sectors — are unhealthy, according to the 2019 EAT-Lancet Commission report. The report compared food consumption patterns in India with a reference diet from EAT-Lancet.

This study used data for analysis from the Consumption Expenditure Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2011–12. The survey carried a nationally representative sample of 0.102 million households from 7,469 villages and 5,268 urban blocks across the country.

Daily calorie consumption in India is low

The average daily calorie consumption in India is below the recommended 2,503 kcal / capita / day across all groups, except the richest 5 per cent of the population.

The calorie share of fruits, vegetables, legumes, meat, fish and eggs in Indian diets was significantly lower, while whole grains accounted for more than EAT-Lancet recommendations.

Calories from protein sources account for only six to eight per cent of Indian diets, while the EAT-Lancet diet recommends the share be 29 per cent. An average Indian household consumes more calories from processed foods than fruits.

EAT-Lancet recommends about one-third (811 kcals) of the total daily calorie intake should come from whole grains.

The average Indian household receives nearly half (47 per cent) of their total calories from whole grains. The calorie share of cereals is as high as 70 per cent for the poorest rural households.

Effects of unhealthy diet

Unhealthy diets are linked to malnutrition and several diseases. Unhealthy diets and inadequate physical activity are risk factors for non-communicable diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

Indian policymakers need to increase efforts to make sustainable and healthy diets more accessible and affordable.

There is a significant difference between the EAT-Lancet reference diet and existing dietary allowances. One such allowance by the Indian Council of Medical Research takes into account only human nutritional requirements, while the EAT-Lancet diet also figures environmental footprints of several food items.

Calorie consumption of each food group — by kilocalorie per capita per day — was calculated using the quantity of consumption, from nutritional values of food items that were provided by the NSSO.

Diets for households — rural and urban, poor and rich — across different areas were compared with the EAT-Lancet reference diet.

The EAT-Lancet diet comprises eight food groups: Whole grains, tubers and starchy vegetables, fruits, other vegetables, dairy foods, protein sources, added fats and added sugars.

The commission promotes a global diet healthy for both the people and the planet, by targeting sustainable food production that can feed 10 billion people by 2050.

A sustainable global food system by 2050 means sufficiently healthy food for all with no additional land use conversion for food, protection of biodiversity, reduced water use, decreased nitrogen and phosphorus loss to waterways, net zero carbon dioxide emissions and significantly lower levels of methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

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