Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
When 23 Indian children who ate meals provided by a free school lunch program were poisoned by contaminated cooking oil last month, the story provoked an outcry around the world and sparked discussions ranging from lack of government oversight to the effectiveness of school-based feeding programs.
Despite the heartbreak, anger, and mistrust that resulted from these avoidable deaths, a writer in The Guardian urged readers to consider the tragedy in context of the positive benefit of free school lunch programs in India. The article cited numerous studies that found evidence that the programs improved child nutrition and boosted school enrollment and attendance rates in India.
To further understand the problem of poisoning in India and see how it ranks in comparison to other health problems in the country, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) Global Burden of Disease (GBD) online tools can be used to visualize these trends.
In 2010, poisonings overall ranked 39th among causes of premature death in India, decreasing 5% from 35th place since 1990 as shown in the screen grab below. Poisonings are shaded green because they are classified as an injury.
Compared to poisonings, other types of injuries such as suicide (“self-harm”), road injury, fire, and drowning ranked much higher among causes of premature death in India (8th, 9th, 13th, and 20th, respectively). Protein-energy malnutrition, one of the diseases that the free lunch programs in India aim to treat, was the 15th leading cause of premature mortality in the country in 2010.
The next screen grab below illustrates causes of premature death among children ages five to 14 in India. Among this age group, poisoning ranked higher (27th) as a cause of premature death than it did in all age groups as a whole. Still, injuries such as road injury, drowning, fire, and falls were much more significant public health problems in India compared to poisonings among these children.
Wondering what percentage of all deaths among children ages 5-14 are due to poisoning in India? The GBD Compare visualization tool gives you an idea. The tool shows that less than 1% of deaths in the country are caused by poisoning in this age group:
The GBD data visualization tools allow you to move beyond the headlines and understand the magnitude of certain public health problems relative to other health problems in a particular region or country.