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India’s Nutrition Challenge: Obesity

Relevance:

  • GS Prelims 2019, GS Mains paper I, II, III
  • Polity and governance, Health problems, Food security to nutrition security, obesity

Why in news?

  • In March, the government announced that it would release an annual “state of nutrition” report, detailing India’s level of stunting, malnutrition and feature best practices for States to scale up nutrition interventions.

Some facts:

  • India has a lot to do to tackle nutrition challenges — 26 million children suffer from wasting (a low weight-for-height ratio), more than in any other country.
  • India has the second highest number of obese children in the world — 15.3 million in China and 14.4 million in India.
  • While tackling undernutrition through assurance of adequate nutrition (usually interpreted as dietary calories), we need to ensure that it is also about appropriate nutrition (the right balance of nutrients).
  • Our policy response has to move from “food security” to “nutrition security”.
  • Between 1980and 2015, obesity doubled for children and tripled for adults; an additional 2.6 million children will be obese in India by 2025, a trend that will not reverse without action.

Obesity contributes to other health problems:

  • It poses a high risk of chronic non-communicable diseases or NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some cancers.
  • Research shows that Indians have higher levels of body fat and lower levels of lean muscle when compared to many other populations.
  • Apart from a high burden of premature mortality, these threats are something that India can ill-afford to ignore as it looks ambitiously toward a universal health coverage system where everyone can access quality health services that are free of financial burden.
  • The rise in obesity is deeply concerning because just as growing up underweight gives that person a lifetime of health problems so does a childhood of being overweight.
  • The potent combination of Indian children eating more junk food while becoming increasingly sedentary puts them at an even greater risk.
  • Research has shown that early warning signs for fatty liver disease can be found in children as young as eight if they had larger-than-advised waistlines when they were three.

What policy changes are required to tackle obesity?

  • Regulatory and fiscal measures need to be taken in order to decrease the availability, affordability and promotion of unhealthy foods, while making healthy foods more accessible. For example, taking the lead from a directive by the Delhi High Court, India should ban the sale of junk food in and around schools.
  • Higher taxes should be imposed on junk and unhealthy foods. Legislators should also put into practice the results of a recent Lancet study on India. It showed that higher taxes on junk food can actually lead those on lower incomes to live healthier lives.
  • Mass media campaigns should be lauched in order to bring awareness about healthy diet change to the people.
  • Crop diversity needs to be encouraged in the agriculture sector.

Conclusion:

  • India should link obesity and undernutrition and treat them as twinned challenges to be jointly addressed under the universal health coverage umbrella.
  • Universal health coverage is encapsulated in the idea that no one should have to suffer financial hardship in order to access essential health care.
  • By tackling obesity through prevention and early care, financially debilitating NCDs can be avoided.
  • India will be in a better position to fulfil the promise of universal health coverage if it disrupts the cycle whereby poverty leads to NCDs and vice versa.
  • There is compelling evidence that heart disease and diabetes impose high burdens of catastrophic health expenditure, result in a loss of livelihoods and crush people into poverty.
  • With no insurance or personal savings, a heart disease diagnosis can compromise a person’s wealth as well as health.

Regulating Plastic Ban And Major Concerns

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper- 3
  • Environment & Biodiversity

Why in news?

  • In recent times use of plastic become the major threat to the environment.
  • India lacks proper framework mechanisms to discourage plastic use.

What are the concerns with plastic use in India?

  • India is the major producer of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans.
  • The Centre’s somewhat liberal estimate shows over 60% of about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily is collected.
  • That essentially means a staggering 10,000 tonnes of trash is being released into the environment, a lot of it is going into the sea.
  • Also, not every piece of plastic collected by the system is scientifically processed.
  • Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system is on the UN map of 10 rivers worldwide that collectively carry the bulk of the plastic waste into the oceans.
  • The effects are evident that they threaten marine life and the well-being of people, as microplastics are now found even in drinking water.

What are the issues with measures taken?

  • In their response to the crisis, communities and environmentally minded individuals are ahead of governments and municipal authorities.
  • They segregate waste, compost at home, conduct “plastic free” social events and help recover materials that would otherwise just be dumped in the suburbs and wetlands.
  • But, valuable as they are, voluntary efforts cannot achieve what systemic reform can.
  • India’s Solid Waste Management Rules and the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016, which built on previous regulations, mostly remain on paper.
  • State governments have simply not given them the necessary momentum, and the producers of plastic articles that are invariably used just for a few minutes have shown little concern about their negative environmental impact.
  • Local bodies mandated under rules to ensure segregation, collection and transfer of waste to registered recyclers have spectacularly failed to fulfil their responsibilities.

What should be done?

  • It is the Centre’s responsibility to ensure that the Environment (Protection) Act, the overarching law that enables anti-pollution rules to be issued, is implemented in letter and spirit.
  • Ideally, regulation should help stop the manufacture of single-use plastic articles such as carry bags and cutlery, and encourage the use of biodegradable materials.
  • The provisions of the Plastic Waste Management Rules require manufacturers of compostable bags to get a certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board.

Air India Disinvestments and the concerns

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper- 2, 3

Why in news?

  • The deadline for submitting Expressions of Interest ran out and there were no bidders for India’s flag carrier Air India.

What did the government plan on Air India disinvestment?

  • The Union government in June 2017 announced its intention to divest a controlling stake in Air India.
  • As a response, unsolicited interest poured in from airlines and various ground handling firms, both domestic and international, for specific pieces of the flag carrier.
  • On March 28 this year, the government came out with a preliminary document seeking bids.
  • In 19 days that followed, it received over 160 queries from various parties seeking clarifications about the disinvestment process.
  • But after all this activity, the government recently announced that at the end of the deadline for submitting Expressions of Interest (EoIs), it had received no bids from any entity to acquire 76% stake in Air India.

What are the technical issues involved in air India bidding?

  • Air India has Rs 33,000-crore debt that was to be bundled with the firm which is seen to be a major hurdle.
  • AI has the largest number of employees per aircraft among Indian airlines.
  • AI had 26,978 employees (including permanent, contractual, casual, and on-deputation staff) which is 234 employees per aircraft.
  • The employees-per-aircraft ratio is a key metric used in the industry to identify the operational efficiency of an airline.
  • But eventual reduction of contractual employees was one of the measures to be undertaken by Air India as part of its turnaround plan.
  • For which the successful bidder will have to plough significant funds into enterprise-wide restructuring, requiring capital expenditure in enhanced products and services, as well as fleet expansion.

What averted the bidders?

  • The conditions of the government such as its decision to retain 24% stake proved to be the biggest deterrent.
  • In clarifications sought by interested bidders, government failed to outline its financial objectives and also to explain any non-financial objectives for which the retention of a stake is considered to be important.
  • The Union cabinet’s approval for strategic disinvestment includes only few areas of airline operations and not the complete operations of the airlines.
  • Returning the carrier to profitability is likely to take at least 2-3 years, during which time the new owner will have to absorb a couple of billion dollars of losses.
  • Thus, this left open the prospect of political interference on strategic and day-to-day matters of the airline operations.

New Insights On Inter-Species Social Behavior Among Animals

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper-3
  • Biodiversity and Environment

Why in news?

  • Recent scientific study on birds has revealed new insights on inter-species social behaviour among animals.

What does the recent research on inter-species state?

  • Birds of a feather flock together’ is an old adage to explain some well-observed aspects of social behaviour among humans and animals.
  • Social behaviour among animals has been researched for a long time, but was restricted to focus on intra-species social interactions.
  • This had led scientists to have a fairly sophisticated understanding of group behaviours.
  • However, relatively less is known about the socialising of certain animals including birds and mammals with individuals of other species.
  • A recent Research by Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru offers new insights on inter-species social behaviour among animals.

What is the new insight on the inter-species social behavior among animals?

  • Scientists have tried to get clarity on the difference between mixed-species socialisations and same-species interactions and ascertain the motivation for mixed-species socialising.
  • It was generally thought that in same-species social interactions, all individuals get similar benefits and in mixed-species interactions, different groups get different benefits.
  • But the study revealed that most cases of mixed species socialisation was similar to that of single species groups and the benefits received from both the groups were also similar.
  • Therefore, when the motivation for joining mixed species group rather than same species group was studied, it was found that gaining concrete benefit like having same predator.
  • And quality of such benefit like how soon can an individual spot a predator, were factors for choosing mixed species group.
  • Some birds took into account the cost of competition while deciding whether to join a flock of different species, such as different food habits but share same predator.
  • It was also found that birds considered their flight behaviour and skills while joining another group, so as to coordinate their activities together as a flock.
  • A combination of these and probably more were the motivations behind birds’ decision to restrict themselves to flocks of their own species or join other groups.
  • These revelations would be helpful in protecting the species of the interacting group of any cascading effects if the other group of species become extinct or change behaviour.

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