ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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PDS and the Rise of NCDs in Rural India

Is there a connection between the public distribution system (PDS) and the increasing reports on the high incidences of Type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in rural India and among the poor in urban India? Why should these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) normally associated with overconsumption and obesity be so prevalent among the poorer sections of our society?

There are two components of the PDS that must be examined in this context – subsidised rice and edible oil. The PDS centrally procures and distributes polished white rice which, apart from being of poor quality (stale, and insect-infested) in most states, has zero nutritional value. In fact it has negative nutritional value by virtue of its high glycaemic index. Providing subsidised white, polished rice has forcibly replaced local fibre-rich millets and varieties of red/brown rice which have a low glycaemic index. This has resulted in (i) loss of nutrition from the poor household’s food basket, thereby contributing to metabolic disorders such as Type II diabetes along with other causal factors such as stress, poor sanitation, etc; and (ii) erosion of local agro-biodiversity leading to a loss in the ability of communities to adapt to changing climate conditions in the long term which further compromises the country’s food and nutritional security. Some of the millets are excellent sources of iron, calcium, and trace nutrients.

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