In a display of casual sexism, a panel comprising only men at the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that women suffer from high blood pressure (BP) because they eat more ‘golgappas’ and ‘chaat’ than men.
The comment was made by Dr YP Munjal of Association of Physicians of India, who was a part of the ‘man’el on ‘Hypertension, The Silent Killer’. It was moderated by Dr Balram Bhargava, the newly-appointed Director General (DG) of ICMR.
“Women should eat less golgappas and chaat,” Dr Munjal said with a smirk, “It is because they are more fond of golgappas and chaat, which they consume more than men, that they suffer from high BP.” The doctor did not cite any scientific evidence to back his claim. The audience – comprising both male and female scientists – kept quiet.
None of the six public health experts on the panel — Dr Bhargava, vice-president of Research and Policy at Public Health Foundation of India Dr D Prabhakaran; Deputy Assistant DG at Directorate General of Health Services Dr Manas Pratim Roy; Director of World Hypertension League at World Health Organization (WHO-South Asia) Dr C Venkata S Ram, Dr Narsingh Verma of Indian Society of Hypertension or Dr YP Munjal himself – found the comment problematic.
Hypertension kills 2.6 lakh Indians annually, comprising of 10.8 per cent of the total deaths in India. The various organizations had gathered at ICMR on the occasion of May Measurement Month to build awareness around the issue.
Following the foot-in-mouth comment, Twitter broke out into a fit of rage. Twitter handle @vitaltooth tweeted, “Golgappas is a part of rich Indian traditional cuisine having nutrition dense tamarind, chilli, chutney, potato, onion, chickpeas. Request @ICMRDELHI to stop targetting street food vendors, instead focus on corporate food joints #Dominos #KFC #PizzaHut etc.”
Golgappas is part of rich traditional cuisine having nutrition dense tamarind,chilli,chutney,potato,onion, chickpeas.
— Dr.Vital Tooth (@VitalTooth) May 2, 2018
@priyakamal tweeted, “I have high blood pressure coz of unscientific manels like this not coz of golgappas and chaat!”
I have high blood pressure coz of unscientific manels like this not coz of golgappas and chaat! https://t.co/14XevW450z
— Priya D (@priyakamal) May 2, 2018
Anant Bhan, a public health specialist told DNA, “These comments are unfortunate and reflect sexism. I hope the organizations involved will provide a clarification.”
This is second such instance in two weeks of a foot-in-mouth comment made by public health officials. Last week, Union Health Ministry had tweeted a graphic lifted off a foreign artist’s Instagram account, labelled it as it’s own. It depicted the outline of a fat woman’s body. The caption said that a woman is fat because she wants non-vegetarian food, including eggs. The Ministry deleted the tweet, without an explanation, following an outrage on social media.
There is a lot going on in this new Ministry of Health campaign. New format, familiar narratives. pic.twitter.com/b8BuMcVfB5
— Edward Anderson (@edanderson101) April 23, 2018