Health Matters | When nutrition calls the shots

This week in health: Tamil Nadu’s breakfast scheme, the debate over ‘too much screen time’ and AI’s use in detecting TB cases.

Updated - September 06, 2023 10:30 am IST

Published - September 05, 2023 04:09 pm IST

Image for representational purpose only. File

Image for representational purpose only. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

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

This week, either by design or by accident, we wound up writing a lot about the importance of nutrition, the availability of adequate nutrition, the role of nutrition in health care recovery, support programmes by State governments, and a bit of history too, thrown into the mix.  

Naturally, the inflationary trend pushing up the cost of food, taking healthy food above the affordability levels of a number of people in this country, will have to be fronted. In this data story, Vignesh Radhakrishnan and Sonikka Loganathan analyse the cost of a plate of food in India. Thalinomics, has for long, been a measure of rising food prices, and affordability in the country. They argue that the cost of preparing meals at home rose by 65% in five years, and wages by just 28%-37%, making it more unaffordable for families who are having to resort to meals that are neither healthy nor balanced in the way they are meant to be. Given the fixed food budget in most Indian homes, the imbalance results in smaller thalis or fewer items in the thali leading to increasingly unbalanced or unfulfilling meals. 

Also, did you see this data from the U.N.? The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2023 adds more grist to this mill. For instance, in India, 74% were not able to afford a healthy diet, the fourth highest share among the nations considered. Charts 1 and 2 show that the cost of a healthy diet in India, though increasing, is still lower than in many comparable economies. However, given the poor income levels in India, a healthy diet is still unaffordable to many. The Hindu Data Team analyses the report and reasons that due to stagnant income levels, 74% in India can’t afford a healthy diet.

Sometimes it boggles the mind that if the importance of nutrition is well understood in general, we still have to be talking about its criticality in human health from time to time. Awareness building is important, but oftentimes, governments need studies to prove to them what is a commonly accepted truth. Not only is nutrition crucial for healthy living, it stands to reason that recovery from ill health is also facilitated by making sure the patient gets an appropriate and nutritious diet. And yet, scientists constantly have to conduct research to find proof for the axiom that nutrition aids in health care recoveries, I argue here. 

The recent extension of the breakfast scheme in Tamil Nadu, introduced just a year ago, to all primary class students in the State also made it to our nutrition-health list this week. While it does have to iron out minor tweaks, in terms of caste discrimination, there is also a demand to include more schools in the ambit. Currently at a mere ₹12.71 per meal per student per day, this scheme has much going for it and is extremely popular amongst parents, teachers and students themselves. They offer suggestions to alter the menu, and attendance and enrolment have quantitatively increased in these government primary schools in the one year that this scheme has been operational. A year ago, wild horses could not bring these children to school, but they now come with a hop, skip and jump. Read more here: When schools whet the appetite of students, and feed them.

As the Home Minister recently said, it is very important to understand the chronology of events. History not only gives us an understanding of what happened in the past, but also valuable lessons from how things were done then. If we don’t want to fritter away time reinventing the wheel constantly, then we must learn from history. That is why this story by T. Ramakrishnan is very important on how Tamil Nadu created history through the mid-day meal scheme. Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in constructing an inclusive framework to improve the nutrition of children, a crucial but often neglected area of nation building.

It is a sheer coincidence that the Union Government is observing Poshan Maah, in its 6th year in September this year. The nutrition week is held every year with the aim of reducing undernutrition levels among children below six years of age, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. Self Help Group members across the country have been trained and activated to raise awareness about food, nutrition, health in their communities. Rajulapudi Srinivas writes on this in Andhra Pradesh: Poshan Maah’ utsavams held at all Anganwadi centres.

Pharma development, checks and balances have featured in this newsletter multiple times, given the significance and the attempts being made by the Centre to promote made in India and keep tabs on quality as well. Bindu Shajan Perappadan writes here on the latest batch of mega schemes for pharma development, medical-tech innovation and reducing dependency API import. This will be announced next month. Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers Mansukh Mandaviya says that six priority areas have been identified, which would see ₹5,000-crore worth research and investment push in the next 10 years.

As Karnataka readies its own State Dementia Action Plan, a national plan to tackle this condition still remains on paper. The importance of taking care of persons with dementia cannot be overstated, Afshan Yasmeen argues, since it is an umbrella term for several diseases affecting memory, other cognitive abilities and behaviour that interfere significantly with a person’s ability to maintain their activities of daily living. An action plan is likely to be launched on September 21, which is observed as World Alzheimer’s Day. Do read further here: Karnataka set to come out with State Dementia Action Plan.

Meanwhile, we also have to tarry at this very important story on concerns over underfunding frustrating mental health care in the country. A Parliamentary Standing Committee expressed its worry last week about the decrease in funding of tertiary care programs and noted that it feared that the reduced budgetary allocation would hamper the state of tertiary-level mental health institutions in the country. Read more, here.

If you have wondered, hypothetically or with serious concern because of the situation at home, if there is a ‘too much screen time’ limit for children and if so, what would be a safe viewing time, this story is for you: Aroon Deep and Sreeparna Chakraborty note that experts say that while very young children up to six years of age should mostly be kept away from screens, a more nuanced approach can be considered for older children based on when and what they engage with online. They have quoted experts who say children cannot be isolated from the Internet and a safe level of exposure is beneficial for the development of cognitive skills in the 6-14 years age group. 

In his continuing TB series, R. Prasad writes on a crucial aspect: detection. Chest X-ray interpretation using AI can detect more TB cases, he argues. In other stories, Abhinay Lakshman reports that Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda called on experts and doctors to dispel negative notions in tribal people over screening blood for sickle-cell disease, and Zubeda Hamid speaks to Dr. Rajib Dasgupta for The Hindu’s In Focus podcast about One Health - an approach that recognises that the health of humans, animals, plants and their environment is interconnected, and a unified approach, across multiple sectors to tackle public health challenges, is necessary.

It is in some ways odd that we have Sneha Cheddar’s story as our tailpiece today. She writes that scientists are testing menstrual products with blood for the first time. The appropriate response to this would be: What? Really?! Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have reported, in a study published in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health on August 7, the absorbency of both traditional and non-traditional period products using not saline or other fluids but with human blood. Do note that they found the advertised capacities of many products to be misleading, as they had used saline or other fluids to determine absorbability.

From the Health pages

Have a minute to spare, then you might learn a few things in the world of health care by stopping at the following links:

Anti-cancer jab taking 7 minutes to administer rolled out in England.

Most avian flu outbreaks in India reported from post-monsoon to pre-summer season, shows study.

Do you want to know the answer to a long pending question? Read on: Why does our hair grow and become grey?, by D. Balasubramanian.

Neurosurgeon investigating patient’s mystery symptoms plucks a worm from woman’s brain in Australia.

Oncologist R. Ravi Kannan of the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre wins 2023 Ramon Magsaysay award.

For further inputs on health reports from our regional bureaus, follow the links below:

Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh Congress accuses the government of commercialising medical education in the State; demands repeal of GOs 107, 108, writes Sujatha P. Verma.


Act against illegal sale of medicines online, Delhi HC tells governments.


Health Minister wants to extend operational hours of Namma Clinics in Bengaluru.

Karnataka Health Department launches doorstep eye care programme in Chickballapur district.


Sexual assault case registered against physician in Kochi.

AIIMS for Kerala: amid delay in approval, govt. pins hopes on high-level meetings this month.


Doctors’ team flag poor living conditions in Manipur relief camps, reports Maitri Porecha.

Tamil Nadu

Doctors flag issue of vacant posts after Minister’s action following inspection, reports Serena Josephine M.

Coimbatore’s potential to maximise medical tourism hinges on vital interventions, say specialists.

Combined efforts result in reuniting 28 rescued mentally ill persons post-recovery with families, finds R. Rajaram.

Residents along Otteri Nullah complain of pollution, health risk and flooding, by Aloysius Xavier Lopez and K. Lakshmi.


Only 4% of Hyderabad’s population above 50 have received adult vaccines, says survey. 


Dengue cases cross 600 mark in Uttarakhand, Dehradun worst affected.

Dengue havoc continues in Haridwar; number of patients reaches 103.

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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