Exploring agricultural levers for mitigating the overnutrition burden in India

The current concern n for and policy response to malnutrition in India is solely restricted to undernutrition diagnosed on the basis of body size (anthropometry). However, recent evidence indicates that the burden of overnutrition and related morbidities is rapidly escalating to alarming proportions. This research first examines the need to address overnutrition in India and subsequently explores the potential of the agricultural sector to mitigate the burden of over nutrition and related non-communicable diseases. The demographic, economic, and dietary transitions seen in India are causing rapid escalation in overnutrition and related morbidities, particularly in urban areas and higher-income groups but also among the poor, with faster escalation expected to occur among this group in the future. Evidence is provided that agricultural policies and production practices affect diet through their influence on food availability, price, and nutrient quality, which, in turn, affect the food choices available to consumers. Agricultural policies are amenable to intervention, but interventions should avoid two potential failings: (1) mitigation of one component of the dual burden (undernutrition and overnutrition) should not inadvertently escalate the other, and (2) socioeconomic equity should not worsen rather than improving. The author concludes that cost-effective strategies that may produce the largest health gains in the shortest timeframe include (1) fiscal measures that increase the price of unhealthy food content or reduce the cost of healthy foods and (2) regulatory measures that improve nutritional information or restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods, particularly to children. Possibilities meriting consideration, as prioritized by the author, include (1) increasing access to and consumption of pulses, vegetables and fruits, and coarse grains and (2) taxation and regulatory measures to curtail the consumption of unhealthy vegetable fats and oils, and processed foods with a high content of oils, fats, sugars, and salt.

Sachdev, H. P. S.
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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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