International medical journal “The Lancet” on Friday launched a series of articles on maternal and child nutrition with focus on India.
The articles include new estimates, analysis and recommendations, and emphasises on an urgent need to reduce under-nutrition burden.
The recommendations, however, have come under fire from pediatrics and nutritionists in the country, who have cautioned the government to take into account the connection between some of these authors and the food product industry while interpreting these recommendations.
The articles called for greater priority to national nutrition programmes and stronger integration with the private sector, along with some other sectors. It highlighted that 3.1 million children under five years die every year from under-nutrition, with 70 per cent of such children living in south-central Asia. A joint statement by some senior members of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) and leading nutritionists said The Lancet’s write-up on acute malnutrition will create intense pressure for introducing specific products marketed by multinational companies.
These products include ready-to-use therapeutic food and ready-to-use supplementary food (RUTF and RUSF).
“The call for engaging with the private sector and unregulated marketing of commercial foods for preventing malnutrition in children raises serious concerns. The inherent conflict of interest will ensure that commercial considerations override sustainable nutritional goals,” said the statement.
“They have given no hard evidence that ready-made food is better than homemade food when it comes to beating malnutrition,” said Dr Panna Choudhury, executive director at IAP, adding that the recommendations appear to benefit the food industry.
According to experts, a recently published study had said: “Either RUTF or standard diet such as flour porridge can be used to treat severely malnourished children at home, and the decision should be based on availability, cost and practicality.”
Dr Choudhury said The Lancet recommended multiple micronutrients for pregnant women without providing proper data on whether these have any adverse effect.
Reacting to the criticism, Dr Robert Black of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school of Public Health and lead author of The Lancet series, said the statement by the pediatrics was misinterpreted as the articles were not advocating any private segment.
“We cannot have a totally unfavourable approach towards the private sector and the food industry. Some in the private food sector has done good too,” he said, adding that the policy with regard to maternal and child nutrition is wrong in India and interventions suggested by The Lancet should be considered.
Apart from Dr Choudhury, experts on whose behalf the statement was issued included H P S Sachdev, former national president of IAP, Dr Arun Gupta, member of the Prime Minister’s council on India’s nutrition challenges, Umesh Kapil of the department of human nutrition at AIIMS, A P Dubey, chairperson of IAP, Dr Mira Shiva, member of the National Authority Women’s Empowerment and Dr C P Bansal, national president of IAP.