Consider taxing high fat, high sugar, and high salt products: Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Chennai, January 3, 2020: To encourage people towards a healthier diet, the Government should consider taxing high fat high sugar, and high salt products said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organisation (WHO). Delivering the first Dr C Gopalan Memorial Lecture, at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) today, she focused on the “Double Burden of Malnutrition” or “The New Nutrition Reality” in her talk.

“The co-existence of overweight and obesity along with stunting is the new nutrition reality that we need to address urgently. We always think that undernutrition and deficiencies are problems of low-income countries and overweight and obesity are the problems of the high income countries, but the new reality is these two coexist in LMIC countries, communities and also in households globally,” she said.

Pointing out to data on malnutrition, she said about 2.3 billion adults and children are overweight globally, with about 150 million stunted children. The burden of overweight and obesity is growing very rapidly and the rate of undernutrition is coming down. She warned that this would have long-term consequences and could affect future generations.

With increasing exposure to ultra processed foods, even among poorest families, these are cheaper and more easily available than healthy food, which was a concern, she said. While this was a difficult process, taxing unhealthy food or making nutrition information labelling mandatory, could help, she said. Listing the 10 ‘double duty actions’ identified by the LANCET commission Dr Soumya also called for systematic assessment of ICDS and PDS programmes from the perspective of nutrition.

Listing a set of eight policy recommendations for India, Dr Soumya called for strengthening data systems, nutrition surveillance and surveys, decentralized planning and policies, focus on local consumption of diverse diets, cultivation of biofortified plants, besides nutrition awareness.

Dr C Gopalan, who passed away last year, is known as ‘Father of Nutrition Research in India’ and was former Director General ICMR as well as Director of the National Institute of Nutrition. This lecture was instituted as a mark of tribute to him, by MSSRF.  Dr Soumya said, as a medical practitioner, he started researching nutrition, when he saw patients in Madras Medical and Stanley Medical College with severe malnutrition and was one of the first to link agriculture, nutrition and health.

Prof Swaminathan who recalled his association with Dr Gopalan said, “Dr Gopalan wanted to endorse the impact of India’s Nutrition Research in the whole of Asia. He always said bio fortification is more important and he did not support chemical fortification and he proved to be right. He worked hard for a nutrition secure India”. The seminar was chaired by Dr Srivalli Krishnan, Senior Programme Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She said availability and access to data was  most important for better nutrition policies, also calling for synergy across departments.

The daughter of Dr C Gopalan, Mrs Malini Seshadri, many scientists from government and non-governmental organizations, development practitioners and scholars attended the lecture.