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Updated: January 2, 2013 09:52 IST

A hero in the fight against malnutrition

Staff Reporter
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M G Venkatesh Mannar has been awareded the Order of Canada
Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu M G Venkatesh Mannar has been awareded the Order of Canada Photo: Special Arrangement

IIT-Madras alumnus, M.G. Venkatesh Mannar is one of 91 persons who have received the Order of Canada, one of the highest civilian honours of the Canadian government.

The distinguished chemical engineer was given the awarded for his leadership in the global fight against malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency.

For nearly 40 years, Dr. Mannar has been working to reduce debilitating micronutrient deficiencies amongst the world’s most vulnerable populations. He is the president of the Ottawa-based Micronutrient Initiative (MI).

As a sixth-generation salt processor in India, he became interested in salt iodisation, given that iodine is extremely important for brain development.

The process of adding nutrients to salt, without changing its colour, texture or taste and not complicating its manufacture, is not easy, but Dr. Mannar has not only developed different technologies to do so, but has also spearheaded the movement in different countries across the world.

Dr. Mannar helped establish salt iodisation in over 50 countries and today, nearly 4 billion people have access to iodised salt. Dr. Mannar has also been associated with the State government’s initiative to offer double-fortified salt to school students as part of the noon meal scheme. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where many children suffer from dehydration, Dr. Mannar has been developing dispersible zinc tablets that need to be placed on the tongues of children for them to develop resistance.

“The challenge is to get to the children,” he said, at IIT-M on Tuesday. The problem of iron deficiency is the worst in southern states of India, where people mostly rely on rice-based diets which comprise heavily polished rice and starch, he said. He also said the situation of malnourishment in India was grave, and even worse than in Bangladesh and several African countries.

Dr. Mannar also said that these days the double burden of nutrition has been a cause of concern too, with cases of lifestyle disorders and obesity increasing.Studies have shown that when undernourished children eat unhealthy food, their bodies tend to absorb them disproportionately. “We need a comprehensive approach to address that,” he added

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