Meet Our Corresponding Members: Dr. Veena Ekbote, PhD
Where are you from?
Hirabai Cowasji Jehangir Medical Research Institute (HCJMRI), Pune, Maharashtra, India. www.hcjmri.org
Tell us about your work in general and about the data you contributed to GDD
I am a nutritionist with a doctoral degree in Health Sciences. I started working at HCJMRI as a nutritionist to contribute to various projects involving nutrition after practicing clinical dietetics for a few years. I shortly became very interested in pursuing research in the field of nutrition and health science and after my Ph.D. I continue to work in research at HCJMRI with Dr. Anuradha Khadilkar. I have also been contributing as a visiting faculty for Master’s courses in Food Science and Nutrition, and Dietetics at the University.
The data that we have contributed to the GDD is from a multicenter survey from 5 regions of India. The survey was conducted in 3 to 18 year old school-going children. A team of doctors and nutritionists traveled to all the regions and conducted all the measurements. We have published several articles on the data from this survey. The dietary data from this survey has been helpful in understanding the interrelation of dietary intake, physical activity, body composition, and growth. The publication can be found here. I have studied the dietary patterns in 2 to 18-year-old children with special reference to their calcium intake.
I have been a part of another multicenter study where, we have examined school-going rural and urban children for their anthropometric parameters, body composition, muscle strength, RMR and other lifestyle factors such as dietary intake, physical activity and sunlight exposure. I am working extensively in muscle-bone related research in apparently healthy as well as children with chronic conditions such as thalassemia, type 1 diabetes.
I am also involved in the dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) assessments of bone and interpretation of the same. I am a part of conceptualizing and executing a study to examine the muscle mass, muscle strength, prevalence of sarcopenia and its determinants in Indian rural and urban population. The study has been recently launched.
How did you become interested in the field of nutrition?
During my ungradute schooling, I studied several subjects under the umbrella of food technology. However, I felt particularly interested in the subject of Human Nutrition. Studying nutrition as an undergraduate was fascinating and nutrition as a science seemed to be the key to understanding and bringing about wellbeing. With this interest, I pursued the same subject for my Master’s and since then I haven’t stopped being amazed by Nutrition Science.
What is one of the biggest nutritional challenges facing your country today?
The biggest nutritional challenge India is still facing is malnutrition. Although the National Family Health Survey data from 1992-1993 to now 2015-2016 show a decreasing trend of malnutrition in children below 5 years, still more efforts are needed towards combating malnutrition in children from all age groups. Food security is another challenge that we are facing and needs to be addressed.
How do you see the COVID-19 pandemic affecting food and nutrition in the populations you study or globally?
The COVID-19 pandemic has specifically affected the consumption patterns of vegetables, fruits, and junk foods in a majority of the population that we study. The consumption of vegetables and fruits has decreased considerably and on the other hand, with the lockdown and work from home situations, the consumption of junk foods has increased in rural and urban populations. In some populations, food security has also been affected. Also, due to various nationwide restrictions, households have started consuming home cooked meals with a greater frequency than before the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis worldwide may show selective effects depending on population; increasing awareness about healthy eating for a select socio-economic class and may be decreasing the food security for other class. The programs working towards combating malnutrition have suffered a setback and this is time lost against combating malnutrition.
How do you see GDD factoring into your research in the future?
The GDD will help me in better understanding the changing trends in dietary consumption and in turn how they affect the nutrient consumption. The information from these data will help in understanding the worldwide change in risk of NCDs and nutritional status including malnutrition at both ends. Further, it may also contribute in better understanding the variation in children’s growth worldwide. And policies can be developed for dietary intakes for different ethnicities, genders to achieve optimal growth and wellbeing.
What directions and/or results do you hope to see in the field of global nutrition research in the future?
Globally, the science of nutrition would be furthered by substantial research in indigenous foods. In many developing countries such as India, due to industrialization and urbanization, many nutrient rich indigenous foods, food preparation practices and food related traditional wisdom is getting lost. The nutrition research globally should also focus on maintaining the wisdom and or reviving the use of indigenous foods and practices. More research in this area can offer solutions to the global challenge of food security and malnutrition.