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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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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)