India has the highest level of public investment in food and nutrition security in the world through its public-funded programmes. However, the wide prevalence of anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies among children and women remains a cause of concern. Access to services and supplies, gender equity and healthy feeding behaviours are key factors for sustainable food and nutrition security. The diluted public accountability, social and geographical exclusion, myths and misconceptions have been major bottlenecks in making food and nutrition a universally available public good.
Nutrition is an integral part of the solution to many societal, environmental, and economic challenges facing the country. We understand that proper nutrition offers one of the most effective and least costly ways to decrease the burden of food and nutrition security and their associated risk factors, including obesity.
India has seen a big economic growth in the past decades accompanied by a rising burden of maternal and child malnutrition as well as non-communicable diseases. Tackling these dual challenges requires a strong investment in nutrition research.
The need of the hour is to retain nutrition as a development indicator and continue to invest in data systems for periodic data-driven updates on the state of food and nutrition security. The stage is set for globally orchestrated action to end hunger and malnutrition. Means and methods are both available for real outcomes. There is political will and a general agreement that a tepid response will no longer suffice.
In India, various progressive reforms have taken place – the launch of Poshan Abhiyaan and now Mission Poshan 2.0, Swachh Bharat Mission, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao are landmark rights-based approaches. These robust programmes have been designed and budgets allocated. There is an urgent need to promote more research work, R&D, linkages studies etc. to make these efforts result-oriented and possibilities to take corrective measures.
The research community will benefit from clearly articulated nutrition research priorities that will lead to science-based information, help to shape policy and enhance future funding for nutrition research, and thereby further promote the field of nutrition science.
A top priority for future nutrition research is the need to better understand variability in metabolic responses to diet and food i.e., understanding variability in individual responses to diet and foods, the impact of nutrition on healthy growth, development, and reproduction, the role of nutrition in health maintenance etc.
Nutrition researchers have a key role in bridging the gap between disease prevention and disease treatment by fostering clinical research, providing innovative interventions and delineating best practices. Tackling the enormous challenges requires coordinated efforts of public and private partners. The development of public/private partnerships between food and agricultural industries, government, academia, and non-governmental organisations has the potential to advance nutrition research, enabling meaningful changes to be made.
Research is needed to identify the impact of these various drivers and understand how they work alone or together to influence nutrition-related behaviour. The other important areas may be food supply/environment, family planning and nutrition, public-private partnership in the food and nutrition sector.
The multidisciplinary nature of the food and nutrition sector and R&D require differing areas of expertise, many different areas, and multifaceted approaches to develop the knowledge base required. This will provide much more evidence-based nutrition guidelines and policies that will lead to better nutrition and well-being.
Proper nutrition offers one of the most effective and least costly ways to decrease the burden of chronic and non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, including obesity. To realise the full positive impact of achieving good nutrition on disease prevention and nutrition promotion among the community, we must have the will to invest in and support the development of more research and development (R&D) centres.
Dr Sujeet Ranjan, Public Health Expert, Coalition for Food and Nutrition Community, New Delhi