Food for thought

By Sharmistha Mukherjee
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 03:16:47 AM

Nutrition in the Nineties -- Policy Issues Edited by Margaret R Biswas and Mamdouh Gabr Publisher: Oxford University Press Price: Not stated

-- THIS decade is witness to the emergence of several issues regarding nutrition, health and environment. Nutrition in the Nineties attempts to compile articles about major issues regarding nutrition.

Increased food production will lead to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition; ironically, this surfeit of food could have a negative impact on environment and human health, through the degradation of land in order to increase its output, the depletion of water resources, etc.

The point here is that farming inputs are major contaminants of food and water. The green revolution, with its emphasis on rice and wheat, has neglected the production of pulses and legumes. Improvements in diet and in health services have begun to eliminate nutritional deficiency diseases. The developed countries, backpedalling into social convention, have experienced a few positive developments like a return to breastfeeding and recognising the virtues of vegetarianism.

The writers disagree with the idea that degenerative diseases will be restricted to the urban elite. They say that it is the poor who are susceptible to all kinds of diseases. This segment of the population must be supplied with healthcare products and food within the constraints of structural adjustments. The crucial issue is how to replace imported food with homegrown stuff. The book reflects on the fact that the government should encourage urban agriculture, which has huge production potential. The text tries to highlight the application of nutritional policy in the urban context, which encompasses the migrating rural population.

It discusses the effect of national policy on gender-based nutritional status and the problems of aging. Clearly, the nutritional aspect of women, even in a female-headed household, is overlooked in most developing countries, despite their increasing participation in economic development. They do not even have access to credit facilities and their wages are dismal.

Increasing longevity will mean that more attention will have to be paid to problems of nutrition and health among the elderly. Fortunately, it has been found that even the vastly varying food cultures of different nations lead to a comparable life expectancy and mortality rate. Thus it becomes necessary to identify common foods and dietary habits that minimise mortality.

---Sharmishta Mukherjee is with Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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