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New food app to help improving food choices


New Delhi: A revolutionary app developed in Australia that provides consumers with easy-to-understand information about packing food nutrition — telling them the salt, fat and sugar content of a product by scanning the barcode — and suggesting healthier alternatives has been launched in India.

The FoodSwitch app, developed by the Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health, provides consumers with the knowledge and support needed for better eating habits across India and is aimed at reducing the burden of diet-related diseases and promoting a healthier population, its developers say.

The application, which was funded in part through an Australia-India Council grant uses the established traffic light labelling system — red (high), amber (OK) and green (good) for evaluating products.

Bruce Neal, senior director at The George Institute for Global Health, said at the launch of the app at the Australian High Commissioner’s residence here on Wednesday evening that FoodSwitch makes the sometimes complicated information on nutrition panels immediately understandable.

“FoodSwitch helps consumers evaluate the nutritional content of packaged foods and, when they can be found, suggests better options,” he said.

Neal, who led the team developing the application, said diets high in salt, sugar and fat were now causing major health problems in India.

“This app will be a great help to those trying to stay healthy. We know that it is really hard for people to grasp the meaning of the nutrition panels on foods,” he said.

Australian High Commissioner Patrick Suckling welcomed the practical engagement between the Australian and Indian health sectors.

“Australia has been engaging with India’s health sector for decades across a wide range of activities in R&D, skills training, commercial engagement and on a government-to-government level. This FoodSwitch Application highlights the importance of proactive and creative approaches to preventative health measures and demonstrates Australian innovation and commitment to health outcomes” he said.

Available for iOS and Android consumers free of cost, FoodSwitch is backed by a database of about 10,000 packaged foods compiled in collaboration with the Centre for Chronic Disease Control in India.

If a scanned product is not in the database, consumers can use the phone camera to send in photos so that it can be added.

“In Australia we receive about 150,000 photos each year which allow us to keep the database completely up-to-date,” Neal said.

“This element of consumer participation has been really exciting for us. This will be the largest country that we have launched in and there are unique challenges with the size and scale of the country, as well as the number of foods and grocery stores.

“Consumer participation will be important so that more people can benefit and improve their health.”

The data behind the FoodSwitch app also supports programmes by the food industry and government designed to improve the healthiness of packaged food.

Vivekanand Jha, executive director of the George Institute for Global Health in India, said he hoped Indian consumers would use FoodSwitch when they did their shopping.

“But we also want to work with the Indian food industry and government to improve the quality of the food supply. If we can make even small changes to the average levels of salt, sugar and harmful fat in the food supply, this could go a long way in combating India’s epidemic of non-communicable diseases,” he said.

Already launched in Australia, Britain, New Zealand and South Africa, the app has had more than 600,000 downloads worldwide.

The George Institute is a not-for-profit organisation conducting scientific research in public health and medical sciences.

Affiliated with the University of Sydney, the Institute today also has offices in India, Britain and China and is also affiliated with the University of Hyderabad, the Peking University Health Science Centre and the University of Oxford.


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Pentavalent vaccine: Doctors raise red flag

In spite of the data presented in this paper from a large cohort, the authors point out that the evidence is merely circumstantial and not conclusive

the new Hepatitis B vaccine for adults is called Heplisav-B.
India's PV to be reexamined because of its harmful effects. .
  • Pentavalent vaccine was introduced in India six years ago
  • It is since then have been a cause of many deaths
  • Doctors want it to be reexamined before continuing its use

Pentavalent vaccine (PV), that was introduced by India a little over six years ago, doubled the deaths of children soon after vaccination compared to the DPT (Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus) vaccine, according to a new study that calls for a “rigorous review of the deaths following vaccination with PV”.

Health officials have launched a campaign targeting nearly 24 million people with a one-fifth dose of the vaccine. Wikimedia Commons
PV has been cause of many deaths in past years. Wikimedia Commons

Government records show that there were 10,612 deaths following vaccination (both PV and DPT) in the last 10 years. There was a huge increase in these numbers in 2017, which the Health Ministry has promised to study. “The present analysis could be a starting point in the quest to reduce the numbers of such deaths,” authors of the new study say.

The study by Dr Jacob Puliyel, Head of Pediatrics at St Stephens Hospital, and Dr V. Sreenivas, Professor of Biostatistics at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), both in New Delhi, is published in the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Dr D.Y. Patil University.

PV is a combination of the DPT vaccine and two more vaccines against Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and hepatitis B. Starting December 2011, PV was introduced into India’s immunisation programme to replace DPT vaccine in a staged manner with a view to adding protection against Hib and Hepatitis B without increasing the number of injections given to infants.

Doctors have raised concerns over these vaccines. Wikimedia Commons
Doctors have raised concerns over these vaccines. Wikimedia Commons

But sporadic reports of unexplained deaths following immunisation with PV had been a matter of concern. Puliyel, Sreenivas and their colleagues undertook the study to find out if these deaths were merely coincidental or vaccine-induced.

The authors obtained data of all deaths reported from April 2012 to May 2016 under the Right to Information Act. Data on deaths within 72 hours of administering DPT and PV from different states were used.

For their study, the authors assumed that all deaths within 72 hours of receiving DPT are natural deaths. Using this figure as the baseline, they presumed that any increase in the number of deaths above this baseline among children receiving PV must be caused by this vaccine.

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According to their analysis of the data provided by the government, there were 237 deaths within 72 hours of administering the Pentavalent vaccine — twice the death rate among infants who received DPT vaccine.

Extrapolating the data, the authors have estimated that vaccination of 26 million children each year in India would result in 122 additional deaths within 72 hours, due to the switch from DPT to PV.

“There is likely to be 7,020 to 8,190 deaths from PV each year if data from states with the better reporting, namely Manipur and Chandigarh, are projected nationwide,” their report says.

It is important to make sure that these vaccines are reexamined peroperly. VOA

The authors note that while the study looks at the short-term increase in deaths (within three days of vaccination) it does not calculate the potential benefits of PV on infant mortality, for example by protection against lethal diseases like Haemophilus influenza.

In spite of the data presented in this paper from a large cohort, the authors point out that the evidence is merely circumstantial and not conclusive. “These findings of differential death rates between DPT and PV do call for further rigorous prospective population-based investigations,” the study concludes. IANS