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Non-Communicable Diseases and Millets


India is currently undergoing an epidemiological transition marked by a surge in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), commonly known as “lifestyle” diseases. Concurrently, there exists a “dual disease burden” due to the prevalent high prevalence of communicable diseases.


GS-2- Health


  • Agricultural Resources
  • Food Security
  • Important International Institutions

Mains Question:

To minimise the rising burden of non-communicable diseases in India, regular consumption of millets and pseudocereals is highly desirable. Comment. Also highlight the government’s initiatives in this regard. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Background: Non-Communicable Diseases in India

  • Non-Communicable Diseases, also recognized as chronic diseases, typically have prolonged durations and result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors.
  • The primary categories of NCDs encompass cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and strokes), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma), and diabetes.

A recent collaborative study conducted by the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare sheds light on the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India.

  • This study marks the first comprehensive epidemiological research paper encompassing participants from all 31 states and Union Territories.
  • By incorporating data from diverse regions, the research offers valuable insights into the prevalence and impact of NCDs, particularly diabetes, across the nation.

Key Findings:

  • Goa, Puducherry, and Kerala exhibit the highest prevalence of diabetes, ranging between 25-26.4%.
  • India is now home to 101 million individuals diagnosed with diabetes.
  • The study identifies 136 million people with prediabetes.
  • Hypertension affects 315 million individuals.
  • Generally obese individuals number 254 million, while 351 million have abdominal obesity.
  • Generalized obesity is prevalent in 28.6% of the population, and abdominal obesity affects 39.5% of Indians, with a notably high rate of 50% in females.
  • Hypercholesterolemia, characterized by fat accumulation in arteries, is observed in 213 million individuals, posing an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • 24% of Indians suffer from hypercholesterolemia.
  • Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” are present in 185 million individuals. LDL cholesterol can contribute to arterial plaque buildup, leading to various health risks.
  • Cholesterol circulates through the blood on proteins called “lipoproteins.”

Factors that have led to an Increase in Non-communicable Diseases:

Consumption of Processed or Unhealthy Diet:

Over the last three decades, the increased consumption of processed or unhealthy diets, defined as the Nutrition transition, has resulted in reduced intake of coarse cereals, pulses, fruits, and vegetables, and an increased consumption of meat products and salt. This has led to a 6% rise in energy derived from fats and a 7% decrease in energy derived from carbohydrates.

Reduced Physical Activity:

The Nutrition transition, coupled with reduced physical activity due to rapid urbanization, has contributed to a rise in obesity, atherogenic dyslipidemia, subclinical inflammation, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and coronary heart disease in Indians.

Prevalence of Malnutrition:

Additionally, the increased prevalence of malnutrition is characterized by an uptick in the intake of Western-style diets, decreased physical activity, and high consumption of tobacco and alcohol among fathers and mothers.



  • Millets, traditional grains consumed in the Indian subcontinent for over 5000 years, are hardy, rain-fed crops with low water and fertility requirements compared to other cereals.
  • They encompass sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, and other minor millets collectively known as Nutri cereals.

Production of Millets:

  • Millets are associated with climate resilience, and there is a pressing need to enhance their productivity through research and development, crop care, and a robust supply chain.
  • Globally, millets are predominantly grown in the Asian region, with India, Nigeria, and China being the largest producers, accounting for over 55% of global production. In recent years, millet production has surged in Africa.
  • In India, pearl millet ranks as the fourth-most widely cultivated food crop after rice, wheat, and maize, making millets available throughout the country.

Benefits of Millets:

  • Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous, and non-acid-forming foods with nutraceutical and health-promoting properties, especially high fiber content.
  • Millets serve as a prebiotic, hydrating the colon, aiding in cholesterol reduction, and providing essential nutrients.
  • The remarkable benefits of incorporating millets or Nutri cereals into the regular diet contribute to addressing health challenges such as obesity, diabetes, and lifestyle issues, owing to their low glycemic index, high dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
  • Nutri cereals boast high nutrient content, including protein, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, B-Vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
  • They offer nutritional security, particularly for children and women, and are crucial for climate change measures in drylands, benefiting smallholder and marginal farmers.
  • Nutri cereals surpass major cereals in terms of slow digestible carbohydrates, non-allergenic proteins, dietary fiber, and micronutrients, containing 55–75% starch, 7–15% protein, 2–5% lipid, 2–4% minerals, and 7–15% dietary fiber.
  • The nutritional and health benefits of millets and pseudocereals are well-documented, recommended to minimize the intensity and management of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.
  • In the current sedentary lifestyle scenario, the regular consumption of millets and pseudocereals is highly recommended for the prevention of lifestyle-related diseases and to lead a healthy life.

Steps Taken by the Government:

  • In response to the growing challenge of diet-related diseases, the Government of India has embraced the trend of consuming functional foods as a preventive measure.
  • Epidemiological studies show that diets rich in plant foods, including whole grains, protect against NCDs such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, due to the protective effects of phytonutrients.
  • The Department of Health & Family Welfare, under the National Programme for Prevention and Control of non-communicable diseases (NP-NCD), spearheads initiatives to increase public awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Furthermore, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) actively promotes healthy eating.
  • To enhance awareness and promote the production and consumption of millets, the millets were rebranded as “Nutri Cereals,” and the year 2018 was designated as the National Year of Millets.
  • Subsequently, the United Nations General Assembly, on its 75th session, declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. This designation provides an opportunity to increase global production, enhance processing efficiency, promote crop rotation, and position millets as a major component of the global food basket.


Hence, the significant factors contributing to the dual-disease burden in India are primarily driven by unhealthy dietary habits affecting all age groups. The mounting epidemic of diet-related non-communicable diseases (DR-NCDs), coupled with widespread undernutrition, imposes a considerable socioeconomic burden. Just as our ancestors wisely recognized the benefits of Nutri Cereals, the present generation too needs to adopt them as a part of the regular diet intake considering all the benefits they have.

March 2024