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New food app to help improving food choices

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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.

(IANS)

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World’s Anti-Corruption Day

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges "to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide."

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Anti-Corruption
Bulgarian anti-corruption protesters march during a demonstration in downtown Sofia, VOA

Corruption costs the world economy $2.6 trillion each year, according to the United Nations, which is marking International Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday.

“Corruption is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune,” the United Nations said.

The cost of $2.6 trillion represents more than 5 percent of global GDP.

The world body said that $1 trillion of the money stolen annually through corruption is in the form of bribes.

Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, told VOA that about a quarter of the world’s population has paid a bribe when trying to access a public service over the past year, according to data from the Global Corruption Barometer.

Moreira said it is important to have such a day as International Anti-Corruption Day because it provides “a really tremendous opportunity to focus attention precisely on the challenge that is posed by corruption around the world.”

Journalist, Anti-Corruption
An activist places candles and flowers on the Great Siege monument, after rebuilding a makeshift memorial to assassinated anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta. VOA

Anti-corruption commitments

To mark the day, the United States called on all countries to implement their international anti-corruption commitments including through the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said that corruption facilitates crime and terrorism, as well as undermines economic growth, the rule of law and democracy.

“Ultimately, it endangers our national security. That is why, as we look ahead to International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9, we pledge to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide,” the statement said.

Moreira said that data about worldwide corruption can make the phenomena understandable but still not necessarily “close to our lives.” For that, we need to hear everyday stories about people impacted by corruption and understand that it “is about our daily lives,” she added.

She said those most impacted by corruption are “the most vulnerable people — so it’s usually women, it’s usually poor people, the most marginalized people in the world.”

Anti-Corruption
Anna Hazare raised his voice against corruption and went ahead with his hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Development Program notes that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.

What can be done to fight corruption?

The United Nations designated Dec. 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003, coinciding with the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by the U.N. General Assembly.

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about corruption and put pressure on governments to take action against it.

Tackling the issue

Moreira said to fight corruption effectively it must be tackled from different angles. For example, she said that while it is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption, governments must also have mechanisms to enforce that legislation. She said those who engage in corruption must be held accountable.

“Fighting corruption is about providing people with a more sustainable world, with a world where social justice is something more of our reality than what it has been until today,” she said.

Anti-Corruption
It is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption

Moreira said change must come from a joint effort from governments, public institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges “to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide.”

It noted that the United States, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, helps partner nations “build transparent, accountable institutions and strengthen criminal justice systems that hold the corrupt accountable.”

Also Read: British Parliament Access Internal Facebook Data Scandal Papers: Report

Moreira said that it is important for the world to see that there are results to the fight against corruption.

“Then we are showing the world with specific examples that we can fight against corruption, [that] yes there are results. And if we work together, then it is something not just that we would wish for, but actually something that can be translated into specific results and changes to the world,” she said. (VOA)