Obituary: Coluthur Gopalan (1918-2019)

Father of nutrition science in India dies in Chennai

By Dinesh C Sharma
Published: Thursday 03 October 2019

Coluthur Gopalan, widely considered the father of nutrition research in India, died. He was responsible for initiating nutrition research in independent India, leading to a number of interventions such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the midday meal scheme for school children, goiter prevention programme, etc. 

Gopalan, decorated with top civilian honours and several professional awards, would have turned 101 on November 28 this year. He died in Chennai early October 3, 2019.

He was the director of the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) from 1960 to 1974 and teh director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research from 1974 to 1979. He later founded the National Nutrition Foundation and served as its chairman until the end.

Starting his professional career in nutrition research at the Nutrition Research Laboratory (NRL) during the British period, he continued his journey over the next six decades. In the late 1950s, when NRL moved to Hyderabad and turned to NIN, Gopalan took over as director and expanded research to several key areas.

Since nutrition is a multi-disciplinary subject, he set up divisions for clinical research, biochemistry, bio-physics, endocrinology, analytical chemistry, food toxicology and the field units.

At NIN, he laid the foundation for research to tackle problems such as protein energy malnutrition, Vitamin A deficiency, Phrynoderma, Lathyrism, fluorosis and Pellagra. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) was also a result of his labour.

Under his leadership, ICMR expanded research into neglected communicable diseases and modernised the working of the council. Three new institutes — Malaria Research Institute; Vector Control Research Institute and Leprosy Research Institute were established to develop and implement preventive and management strategies for these diseases. 

Gopalan also got NIN to work on Indian foods, resulting in publication called Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, which was based on analyses of over 500 Indian foods. This work was used for calculating dietary in-take of all nutrients. This made India the first developing country to have its own ‘recommended dietary allowances.’ 

“NIN today bears testimony to his genius as an architect and father of nutrition sciences in ndia. Research under his leadership formed the basis of major national nutrition programmes initiated in the 1970s such as ICDS and Massive Dose Vitamin-A and iron supplementation,” said R Hemalatha, director, NIN.

“Gopalan was a visionary institution builder. He viewed medical and nutrition science from a holistic perspective and always wanted to address them taking a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach. His contributions to medical science in general and nutrition science in particular are immense. He, in fact, brought nutrition to centre stage and was instrumental in putting it as an important driver in developmental plans and policies of the country,” said Balram Bhargava, director-general of ICMR. (India Science Wire)

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