Gaps & opportunities for nutrition research in relation to non-communicable diseases

Gaps & opportunities for nutrition research in relation to non-communicable diseases

It is ironic how little the society is aware about the right nutritional approach despite food being such a big part of our lives. A right diet plan not only keeps one energized and fit but also keeps non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, kidney stone, anemia, among others — at bay. A very crucial reason behind this lack of awareness regarding the right nutritional foods is the lack of comprehensive researches in regards to nutrition.
At a time when the world is under the grip of a deadly transmissible virus Covid-19, it becomes even more pertinent to adopt the right nutritional practices to stay immune as people with comorbidities are more likely to lose battle against the disease, if infected. This global pandemic also reminds us of the urgent need to invest in detailed nutrition researches in relation to NCDs that factor in all important aspects like age, gender, physical activity, environmental, and even climatic conditions.
Diet and diseases
Multiple researches across the world have found a direct co-relation between dietary habits and chronic diseases. Unhealthy food practices are associated with overweight, obesity, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and other chronic ailments. Additionally, lifestyle changes that have come along with rapid industrialization, urbanization, globalization, and economic development are also adversely impacting the fitness of people while increasing the chances of NCDs.
The rising urban trends of fast food, packed food, high calorie drinks, liquor consumption, and smoking have become the primary causes of the sharp spike in NCDs not just in the developed but also the developing and under-developed countries. Lack of physical activity due to technological advancements is also affecting the body-mass index of people.
Moreover, we have still not been able to completely eradicate malnutrition. The issue is even more severe in low income countries. Similarly, under-nutrition is also plaguing the health of people and making them prone to NCDs. Even a person from a comfortable financial background can also be suffering from under-nutrition.
In India, malnutrition and under-nutrition are responsible for four out of five child deaths. What’s more shocking is the fact that both rich and poor children are eating badly for different reasons and experiencing stunted growth that ultimately leads to NCDs. The issue is not just specific to India but other Western nations as well. A study titled State of World’s Children published by UNICEF last year pointed out how lack of adequate protein intake is leading to severe health issues especially among children and married women.
Epidemic of NCDs
According to World Health Organization, NCDs kill about 41 million people across the world each year. This translates to roughly 71% of all deaths globally. The report adds that among these victims, 15 million are aged between 30 and 69 years and around 85% of these NCD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Moreover, NCDs are both, a social and economic burden as the cost of treatment is also accelerating worldwide.
In order to control NCDs, it is important to focus on monitoring progress and trends of such infections. Governments must follow a comprehensive approach enveloping all sectors, including health, finance, education, agriculture, among others. Similarly, researches and discussions on nutrition should be more streamlined so as to make people aware of the right nutritional approach.
Research gaps
Despite experts pushing for a national nutrition research roadmap, a comprehensive draft is yet to come up. Majority of the nutrition researches being conducted, at present, do include socio-economic factors, environmental and climatic conditions, lifestyle patterns, availability of right food, among others. Most of them, however, focus on just one aspect. While such targeted pieces are vital in throwing light on specific points, a comprehensive study detailing all aspects should be compiled. It would help inform people about the right food practices and enable the government in leveraging the limited resources of the relevant departments and agencies in establishing nutrition-related chronic disease prevention strategies. A comprehensive research will also help in the efficient use of government investments and resources in supporting human nutrition. Such a research is fundamental for not just checking deficiencies and other NCDs, but also in alleviating skyrocketing health care costs and boosting economic productivity of people.
Similarly, there is a need for government institutions and private bodies to come forward and promote research on nutrition at both, micro and macro levels, as well as boost public interest by spreading awareness regarding nutrition research. The government funding on nutrition research in relation to NCDs should also be increased and more healthcare officials should come forward and contribute to it.
Research opportunities
Nutrition research with regards to NCDs is a vast diameter. Focus should be laid on studying aspects like the role of nutrition in infants, the importance of physical activity and nutrition, eating and activity patterns in relation to co-morbid diseases (particularly among elderly), circadian timing of food intake, late day food consumption, influence of different diet regimens and cuisines on health, and much more. Researches in these areas can prove to be highly beneficial in understanding the nutritional needs throughout the lifecycle.
Experts say ingestion, digestion, absorption, and utilization of nutrients determine the ability of a body to win over NCDs. Thus, further exploration is required to gauge the nutritional status of an individual. Likewise, only a few studies have focused on the role of nutrition in mental and psychological health and therefore, more work is needed in this regard. Also, there are multiple research opportunities in understanding the individual responses to alterations in diet, environmental exposures, and physical activity.
Health monitoring is yet another area of concern that needs attention. We still do not have effective monitoring systems and data systems should be strengthened to sort the issue. The urban trend of wearable health devices also provides immense scope for nutritional research.
Like researches on any other subject, nutritional research in relation to NCDs can also prosper through collaborations and deeper understanding of goals. Public-private partnerships, flexibility in research mechanisms, cost sharing, and innovation are key pillars of such studies. Researches have demonstrated the role of nutrition in NCD prevention and now, more studies must be conducted to find out cost-effective ways improve the health of people and accelerate advances in human nutrition. Ensuring coordination among research bodies and concerned policy making departments is also important in order to weed out the demons of malnutrition and curb NCD infections.

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