Health Matters | Spiralling prices prey on health and wellness 

This week in health: AI-generated research papers, the contentious science of sugar sweeteners and a new diarrhoea-causing parasite.

Updated - July 19, 2023 10:19 am IST

Published - July 18, 2023 01:24 pm IST

Continually increasing price rise is affecting the purchase and consumption of healthy foods. Image for representational purpose only. File

Continually increasing price rise is affecting the purchase and consumption of healthy foods. Image for representational purpose only. File | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

(In the weekly Health Matters newsletter, Ramya Kannan writes about getting to good health, and staying there. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox.)

It is quite possible that a generation that has survived a global pandemic fancies itself, in some measure, hardened from that experience, that it perhaps has acquired a fortitude through coming out of a global crisis. But this confidence is often assailed, from time to time, by the vicissitudes of living itself.

Continually increasing price rise, affecting the purchase and consumption of healthy foods, is the assault that is currently threatening the well-being in this country. A combination of extreme weather events, rising costs of transportation and failing procurement policies have tipped the prices of vegetables to the unaffordable side, for most residents in this country. The price of tomatoes has soared to a retail high of ₹160 or more for a kilogram, while the prices of other perishables, including ginger and green chillies, and cereals such as dal and jeera have also gone where they seldom have been before. Ironically, rising prices invariably mean that healthy food is out of range for a good number of people operating on non-elastic, monthly budgets. This pushes them towards unhealthy, packaged foods high in salt, sugar, saturated fats, and choking with preservatives, that are priced tantalisingly. Here, Zubeda Hamid speaks to an expert to clarify that the need of the hour is implementing better food policies, and the dangers of not consuming a balanced diet. Do listen in. 

No doubt, this is leading up to the path of micronutrient deficiency, not to mention the non-communicable diseases epidemic in India. Experts recently suggested that fortification of foods is the only way to avoid micronutrient deficiency. Fortifying rice with iron was suggested as one way to counter anaemia in the country.

As the pendulum usually swings, from insufficiency to excess, here goes. People have been knocking about the theory of sugar substitutes for a while now. In mid-May, the World Health Organisation released a new guideline, advising that non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) should not be used for weight loss. Not only did the “use of NSS does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children”, but also that “results of the review also suggest that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.” You also read about this, here, in an explainer by Maitri Porecha. But last week, there was more to this, after a week of hectic speculation and crying wolf about “a ban coming on sugar substitutes”, finally this happened. Bindu Shajan Perappadan reported from the assessment released jointly by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the WHO among others, that there was ‘limited evidence’ for carcinogenicity in humans from non-sugar sweetener aspartame. The report pointed out: “For example, with a can of diet soft drink containing 200 or 300 mg of aspartame, an adult weighing 70kg would need to consume more than 9–14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake, assuming no other intake from other food sources.” While moderation is recommended, the tendency to spread unsubstantiated rumours and sensationalise, and be alarmist, continues in the healthcare sector.

There will be no compromise in the quality of drugs, Union Minister of Health Mansukh Mandaviya rushed to clarify, last week. Recently, the Indian Pharma sector has been facing strident criticism after adverse effects, including death, followed by using certain Indian-made cough syrups and eye drops. Hopefully, the Minister’s eagerness to bring in robust standards in the industry will reflect as more than knee-jerk reactions, going beyond one-time risk-based inspections and audits of manufacturing plants.

Poorly-packaged slaked lime, an ingredient of paan can cause eye injury among children, says Tejah Balantrapu. As per a study conducted by researchers at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, and Narayana Nethralaya, Bengaluru, the quicklime, loosely sold in plastic packets can puff out of the packaging to a child’s eye, and cause burns. For homes in which children live, it is important to be absolutely careful that objects that may cause harm to children are put out of their reach.

In our weekly journal of infectious diseases, here’s one on the link between a bacteria and infections in the oral cavity, and endometriosis, an abnormal, painful thickening of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Rebecca Rose Varghese writes that this study could help expand the range of treatment options for a condition that affects millions of women with chronic pain and infertility.

R. Prasad brings to you news that a new diarrhoea-causing parasite has been found. A three-year surveillance study in Kolkata has found that an amoeba pathogen that previously did not cause any amoebiasis (a form of diarrhoea) in humans has now become pathogenic.

In another significant article, he also argues that it would be unethical to continue using the oral polio vaccine, given the occurrence of vaccine associated polio myelitis, and how the developed world has shifted to an inactivated polio vaccine.

And there is no denying that technology has not only crept up upon us, but also muscled its way into the centre of operations. As per this report, the Union Ministry of Health used artificial intelligence and machine learning-based anti-fraud software to detect several irregularities in the government-run insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY). Based on this, a penalty amount of ₹9.5 crore has been recovered while 5.3 lakh Ayushman cards have been disabled and 210 hospitals de-empanelled. This comes, even as the Centre has nudged the States and Union Territories to achieve Ayushman Bharat card saturation.

In this interesting, nostalgic tail-piece, diabetologist Dr. V. Mohan wonders about good old research methodology on reading about an AI-generated research paper. 

From this week, we also offer a smattering of health related reports from the regions:

Andhra Pradesh

An update on the number of dengue and malarial cases so far, in AP, by Tharun Boda. 


The Yamuna river overflow caused water-logging at Priyadarshini Colony in Kashmere Gate in Delhi on July 16, 2023.

The Yamuna river overflow caused water-logging at Priyadarshini Colony in Kashmere Gate in Delhi on July 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Samridhi Tewari records the situation in Delhi’s flood-affected Priyadarshini Colony, where residents say they have to fight diseases themselves.


Shortage of public health nurses hits efforts to contain infectious diseases

Tamil Nadu

The tertiary, public sector hospital in Chennai, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital shows an impressive increase in bone marrow transplants, says Serena JosephineM.

Students of government medical colleges in TN protest against NExT.


Siddharth Kumar Singh reports on oncologists’ call for making cancer a notifiable disease. 

From the Health pages

With those extra moments you have do also read:

What is worse than extreme heat? Extreme heat plus air pollution

Costs to cut risk of sickle cell disease beyond reach of most in India: Lancet Commission

Centre to seek inputs from States to bridge gaps in sex ratio

As always, do put us on your radar, as we bring more health content your way. Get more of The Hindu’s health coverage here.

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