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Queen’s researchers develop tool to tackle diet epidemic in India

New research led by Queen’s University Belfast aims to better understand the link between diet and disease in India

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Queen’s University Belfast has released a study to connect the dots between diet and disease in India. More than 60 per cent of premature deaths can be attributed to preventable cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, highlighting the pressing need for further research in this area. Researchers from Queen’s are developing a tool to capture data at a national level to enable healthcare professionals and policy makers to make informed decisions to tackle the epidemic.

India is one of a growing number of developing countries to experience the double burden of malnutrition, where high levels of undernutrition coexist alongside over-nutrition, obesity and type 2 diabetes. A disproportionately high number of premature deaths in India are caused by preventable diet-related disease. However, to date, there is limited information on dietary intake among the Indian population.

The initial feedback from the research team who have piloted the measure with adults aged 45 years and older has been positive. Dr McEvoy, Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, explains, “Through working with leading researchers, dieticians and medical clinicians in India, we have developed a suitable measure of habitual diet that takes into account diverse eating patterns and socioeconomic gradients in the population who have high susceptibility to both nutrient deficiency and non-communicable disease.”

She further said, “As the population is set to increase, the double burden of malnutrition will become a bigger challenge. It is vital that we begin to collate this data now at a national level, so that we have the knowledge to inform healthcare policies and healthcare planning around this epidemic. The next stage of our research will be to test the feasibility of the diet measure on a wider scale.”

Dr AB Dey, Professor and Head, Department of Geriatric Medicine — AIIMS, New Delhi, said, “Interpretation of nutrition research is as complex as the cooking in India where the dialect and the diet change every 100 miles. Understanding the impact of diet on cognitive ageing can be interesting. Are the spices protective in the genesis of dementia? What would be the impact of protein-deficient diet on ageing of the brain? Is it possible to develop a tool which can capture the dietary pattern across the country? These are some of the issues which are being addressed by a productive collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and AIIMS, New Delhi.”

India’s population is growing at an exponential rate. In the next 30 years, India will become the world’s most populous country, with the proportion of older adults anticipated to increase from eight per cent to 19 per cent. This rapid growth in population ageing will lead to increased preventable disease in the population as well as an increased demand on food supply.

To date, there has been limited research around diet in India, making it difficult to implement informed healthcare policies for the population in a bid to tackle the double burden of malnutrition.

Dr Claire McEvoy and Professor Jayne Woodside from the Institute for Global Food Security and Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast are working in collaboration with colleagues from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the University of Southern California to develop a measurement tool to capture dietary data at a national level. The pilot project was funded by the Department from the Global Challenges Research Fund.

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