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Scaling up core micronutrient interventions: It’s $12 bn vs $574 mn

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Malnutrition

New Delhi, Sep 12: Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, was quoted as saying: “If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” Sadly, even today 248 million children across the globe are suffering from one or the other form of malnourishment — stunting, wasting and obesity. It accounts for 45 per cent of child deaths.

The significance of the problem is relatively higher in India as, with 20 per cent of the world’s child population, it has one of the world’s highest malnutrition rates. The root of the problem lies in gross negligence of public investment in healthcare facilities, let alone a focused intervention in child health amenities. Public expenditure on health, as a percentage of total health expenditure, has hovered between 25 and 30 percent in the last decade, while the world average stood at 60 percent. As a matter of fact, only 16 countries have a lower public expenditure on healthcare than India.

The inadequacy of government intervention is clearly reflected in the country’s performance on child health indicators. As an extension of the fact that the country has the highest levels of malnutrition, India also has the highest number of stunted children in the world. The other aspects of malnutrition are no better off. A high proportion of children with anaemia, low weight, lower levels of breast feeding and evolving problems of obesity are also equally of concern. The percentage of anaemic children, although depicting a declining trend, is still at 58.4; the percentage of overweight children increased to 6.1 in 2014; and finally, there has also been a rise in wasted children by 1.2 percentage points during the last decade.

Over the years, India has suffered heavy economic losses due to such absurd levels of malnutrition. Any aspect of malnutrition directly impacts a person’s productivity levels, affecting his economic viability. According to World Bank estimates, productivity losses due to malnutrition are more than 10 per cent of lifetime individual earnings or about 2-3 percent of the GDP. Annually, India loses over $12 billion in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

This is because children who are undernourished show lower activity levels and reduced attention. Studies show that low weight at birth and stunting can reduce a child’s IQ by five points. In addition, anaemia and other deficiencies can have irreversible damage on a child’s ability to learn. A recent World Bank study found that stunting among children in India reduces their per capita income by 13 per cent. Since two-thirds of India’s current workforce was stunted in childhood, the economic losses that the country has borne due to it through generations is unimaginable.

The issue gets even more complicated for nutritional deficiencies in a girl child. Malnourishment in a girl, combined with the Indian trend of early marriage, has a cascading effect of health complexities across generations. Data by National Family Health Survey suggests that 26.8 per cent of the women in India are married before 18. Childbearing at an early age can cause nutritional deficiencies in the womb and increase the risk of death by 2-10 times. Moreover, 41.4 per cent of the mothers do not receive any antenatal care during their first trimester. This induces other risks associated with mineral deficiencies in the womb such as blindness, dwarfism and also chronic diseases like diabetes in adulthood.

There is also a tendency among Indians to avoid hospitals due to the high out-of-pocket expenditure during delivery. The average out-of-pocket expenditure per delivery in a public healthcare system in rural areas is almost Rs 3,000 ($47), where 75 per cent of the population earns less than Rs 5,000 a month. Such excessive costs of child and maternal care lead to a widespread inclination to evade hospitals for childbirth, which results in health complications among children and even death.

The potential gains from addressing these issues will far exceed the costs incurred. As against the $12 billion that the country loses to nutritional deficiencies each year, scaling up core micronutrient interventions would cost less than $574 million annually. Research suggests that $1 spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate $34.1 to $38.6 in public economic returns, three times more than the global average. This makes boosting nutrition levels across the country one of the biggest low hanging fruit in the Indian public policy sphere.

 

Health

Father’s stress linked to kids’ brain development

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Father stress kid

New York, Feb 17: Fathers, take note! Taking too much stress may affect the brain development of your kids, a new study has claimed.

According to the researchers, the stress changes the father’s sperm which can then alter the brain development of the child.

This new research provides a much better understanding of the key role that fathers play in the brain development of their kids, the researchers said.

Previously, the researchers including Tracy Bale at the University of Maryland School, found that adult male mice, experiencing chronic periods of mild stress, have offspring with a reduced response to stress; changes in stress reactivity have been linked to some neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and PTSD.

They isolated the mechanism of the reduced response; they found that the father’s sperm showed changes in a genetic material known as microRNA. MicroRNA are important because they play a key role in which genes become functional proteins.

Now, the researchers have unravelled new details about these microRNA changes.

In the male reproductive tract, the caput epididymis, the structure where sperm matures, releases tiny vesicles packed with microRNA that can fuse with sperm to change its cargo delivered to the egg, they said.

The caput epididymis responded to the father’s stress by altering the content of these vesicles, the researchers added.

The result of the study, presented at AAAS 2018 annual meeting in Austin, suggests that even mild environmental challenges can have a significant impact on the development and potentially the health of future offspring.

The researchers also noted that by learning more about links between a father’s exposure to stress and the risks of disease for his kid, we can better understand, detect, and prevent these disorders.

IANS

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How asthma may affect your chances of pregnancy

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asthma

Sydney, Feb 16: Certain asthma medication, especially the “quick-acting” relievers, may affect women’s ability to conceive, warns a new study.

The study of more than 5,600 women showed that asthma patients who only use these short-acting asthma relievers take longer to become pregnant than other women.

But those who use long-acting asthma preventers conceive as quickly as other women, said the study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

While the short-acting asthma relievers provide quick relief of symptoms, long-acting asthma preventers are used to control the condition instead of getting quick relief.

“This study shows that women using short-acting asthma relievers take longer to get pregnant,” said lead researcher Luke Grzeskowiak from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“On the other hand, continued use of long-acting asthma preventers to control asthma seems to protect fertility and reduce the time it takes women with asthma to become pregnant. This could lead to a reduction in the need for fertility treatments,” Grzeskowiak said.

The results provide reassurance for asthmatic women that using inhaled corticosteroids to prevent symptoms does not appear to reduce fertility, he said.

The researchers examined the data of women expecting their first babies in the early stages of pregnancy.

The participants were from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland.

The researchers found no difference in fertility between women using long-acting asthma treatments and women without asthma.

Women using short-acting reliever medication (known as beta-agonists) took 20 per cent longer to conceive on average.

They were also 30 per cent more likely to have taken more than a year to conceive.

“As well as affecting the lungs, asthma could cause inflammation elsewhere in the body, including the uterus. It could also affect the health of eggs in the ovaries,” Grzeskowiak said.

“Inhaled corticosteroids suppress the immune system, whereas short-acting asthma treatments do not alter immune function. In women who are only using relievers it’s possible that while their asthma symptoms may improve inflammation may still be present in the lungs and other organs in the body,” he added.

-IANS

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Video games can improve mobility in stroke patients: Study

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London, Feb 15: Playing video games may help stroke patients to improve their attention deficit disorders and movement control problems, claimed a new study.

After a stroke, also called cerebral infarction, injuries in areas that control attention also cause mobility problems.

The study has opened the door to a new therapeutic pathway that consists of complementing the physical treatments received by stroke patients with therapies to overcome attention deficit disorders, such as working with video games.

Previous studies have shown that the control of movement and the attention control aspect were “different systems” with little relation to each other, and that the treatments enabled for the patients with cognitive injuries could not serve for those who had mobility problems.

However, in the new study, the team emphasised that the therapeutic routes that complemented mobility therapies based on physiotherapy with another type of cognitive training can also be effective in increasing the attention span of patients at the same time.

One example would be working with the video games, the researchers noted.

“Patients with brain injuries in attention control areas also suffer motility control problems, even when the movement required by the task is very simple,” said David Soto, Professor at the Imperial College London in the UK.

For the findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team explored the extent and location of brain injuries in 167 stroke patients for more than three years.

They identified the affected part and the type and size of the lesion, and analysed the connectivity between the different areas of the brain.

Next, they subjected the patients to various motor tasks, some very simple, such as grabbing an object with force. After the tests, the researchers found that these tasks were “impaired” in those patients who had injuries in the area of the brain “involved” in attention.

The results confirmed that video games could be substituted for a new therapeutic treatment to mitigate the physical ailments suffered by stroke patients.

IANS

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