Controlling portion sizes may help prevent food wastage and rationalise intake at a time obesity-related diseases are the number one killer.
India has too many balls up in the air when it comes to public health and nutrition. Malnutrition — which includes both undernourishment and overweight-obesity — is the number one problem in the country.
In fact, it is a rising menace as urbanisation contributes to more sedentary lifestyles and poor or wrong eating habits promote obesity across age groups. While under-nutrition rates have stagnated (not reduced), they are still a huge challenge (four out of every 10 children are underweight).
One more associated worrying issue with both forms of malnutrition is multiple micronutrient deficiency. Even if we pull children out from undernourishment by feeding them enough calories, we are not focusing enough on providing them high quality, balanced foods rich in vitamin and minerals.
In simple words, even if we achieve food security, attaining nutrition security is a far more complex challenge.
Mineral and vitamin deficiencies (also referred to as hidden hunger) are known to adversely impact human potential. This needs urgent attention as it ties in closely with the productivity and economic growth of the country in the long run.
Thus, translating our vision of nutrition security and sufficiency for all into reality may require multiple strategies and consolidated efforts. The vision resonated recently in one of Prime Minister Modis monthly radio talks. He spoke about controlling or rationalising the size of the portion an individual eats, which in most cases will reduce food wastage.
The related ministries were quick to add their support and talk about guidelines to do so. As of now this has largely been directed towards commercial restaurants and hotel industry.
The content and coverage of the prospective guideline for curtailing food portions should be integrated into the food and nutrition policy of the nation - how will we define portion size and how will we monitor it?
Controlling portion sizes will have the obvious benefit of preventing food wastage, but it may also help to rationalise intake at a time when obesity-related chronic diseases are the number one killer.
The World Health Organisation projects that more than two thirds of the global population will become overweight or obese by 2020 if corrective, evidence-based measures are not urgently sought and put in place.
Worldwide, experts have deliberated and unanimously agreed that overweight-obesity is a complex problem and will need multiple participatory approaches, including awareness building, behaviour change strategies, community interventions, nutrition counselling, improving access to high quality local produce of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, taxation policies for ultra-processed junk foods and sugar sweetened beverages.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) convened a panel in 2015, of which I was a member, which prepared guidelines to tackle the problem of high fats, sugar and salt in our foods (currently put out for public review and comments).
In a country where being overweight is still seen as ‘chubby’ or a sign of prosperity, awareness building and behaviour change interventions are needed. Practices change only when people understand the consequences of this rising menace among our children and population at large. The proposal to control portion sizes is commendable and, if implemented, can go a long way in attaining food security and improving public health in India.
We must think creatively and urgently to convert the tons of extra food into safe nutritious forms to feed those who may need it. Systems must be put in place that collect and process the extra food from big and small establishments. Recogn-ising individual responsibility in buying ingredients, preparing required amounts, serving small portions in platters, avoiding over feeding ourselves and our children may go a long way in saving food wastage.