Addressing Nutrition in India

September 07, 2018

During India’s National Nutrition Month in September, the Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai (CGCM) organized two notable workshops that were designed to deliberate on the country’s most pressing nutrition concerns.  Today, India is clearly in the midst of a “nutrition transition,” from a situation in which undernutrition was the only concern for the country to one in which over-nutrition, obesity, and other nutrition-related non-communicable diseases are becoming equally prominent.

The first workshop, focusing on pediatric cancer and nutrition, was organized by Dr. Elena Ladas, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Columbia University Medical Center, in collaboration with International Society of Pediatric Oncology and the International Initiative for Pediatrics and Nutrition.  Participants included leading pediatric oncologists, nutritionists, civil society organizations, and academics. Figures presented by Professor Ladas showed that an estimated 50,000 new cases of pediatric cancer are detected every year in India, of which up to 85% are malnourished at diagnosis with a survival rate of only 20%.  The two-day workshop underlined the need and processes required to develop Indian guidelines which could eventually lead to improvements in clinical outcomes for children with cancer and serve as a supportive tool for practitioners.  

Professor Ladas posited that development of standardized guidelines would serve as a point of reference for medical orientation and education and as a means for minimizing inappropriate practice variations.  Stakeholders committed to the formation of a steering committee to review existing literature in South Asia to finalize reference values and guidelines directing nutritional screening, assessment, and intervention for institutions providing nutritional care for children with cancer, with a view to minimizing duplication of efforts and an emphasis on deploying efforts towards larger outreach and dissemination.

The second workshop focused on mapping gaps related to nutrition research in India. Expert speakers in the field of nutrition research from the Public Health Foundation of India, International Food Policy Research Initiative, and SNDT University presented key research efforts as well as challenges in advancing nutrition research in India, including lack of infrastructure, lack of interdisciplinary training, limited institutional and individual capacities to document data, limited research funding, limited mentorship, and an overall lack of research culture within India.  Participants pointed to the critical need for developing a research and pedagogical framework and exploring collaboration, as investments in nutrition knowledge-building can play a significant role in addressing the double burden of malnutrition.