Battling anaemia in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, hundreds of residents are taking an unusual taste test. They're sampling a variety of local breads and bread products to see whether they can detect anything unusual in any of the items. Do the testers notice a flavor of rusty nails in a sample of flat bread, for instance? Do they smell anything peculiar in a particular cookie?

Though the test may seem like a challenge for epicures, its ultimate goal is to conquer anaemia among Sri Lanka's 18 million residents.

Estimates indicate that half the women in Sri Lanka and throughout Southeast Asia have the disorder, the most common nutritional disorder in the world, says Rebecca Stoltzfus, assistant professor of nutrition at the School of Public Health. "Southeast Asia is probably the worst area in the world for iron deficiency," she says. Anaemia lowers a person's ability to think, decreases productivity, and increases the risk of infection.

Pregnant women with anaemia have a greater risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

In children, anemia can retard growth and mental development. "As countries develop and get rid of other nutritional problems, anaemia hangs on," says Stoltzfus, particularly in places where people consume few animal products, which supply iron.

Parasites like hookworm also contribute to anaemia by eating blood, which stores most of the body's iron.

With the United States Agency for International Development and the Sri Lankan government, Stoltzfus is developing a program to reduce anaemia by fortifying all Sri Lanka's wheat flour with iron.

Step one are the taste tests, to see whether volunteers can taste or smell iron in various breads, pastas, crackers, and cookies prepared with iron-fortified flour.

"Food fortification is a good intervention," says Stoltzfus. "It's extremely inexpensive. The cost-benefit analysis becomes meaningless."

Furthermore, wheat is a prime food to fortify in Sri Lanka, she says, since it comprises about 40 percent of the nation's staple calories.

All the country's wheat is imported from the U.S. and processed at one mill.
Adding iron to the nation's wheat would be relatively simple.

So why hasn't it been done already?

One stumbling block is that scientists first need to find out how much iron and what type of iron should be used. "We'd like to pack in as much iron as we can without it tasting like rust," says Stoltzfus.

Bread with too much iron won't be palatable, and consumers won't buy it. So the products in the taste test contain varying amounts.

The bread products also contain five different forms of iron, ranging from ones that are highly bio-available (more likely to be absorbed by the blood supply) to those that are of low bio-availability (thus more likely to be excreted).

Ideally, says Stolzfus, "we'd like to pick the highest level of bio-avail- ability.

But when you use iron that is more bio-available it can react with the fats in the bread," she says.

"The bread ends up tasting like nails, or the color changes to green, or the bread doesn't rise as well."

For phase two of the project, Stoltzfus and her colleagues are designing a study to monitor the levels of haemoglobin (the iron-carrying molecule found in red blood cells) and rates of anaemia in people who are eating fortified flour.

The study seeks to make sure that fortification really does increase their blood iron levels.

How many women does it take to sell a light bulb?

By Ishani Ranasinghe and Thiruni Kelegama
A woman in a man's shirt and her partner making their morning cuppa. She touches his chest, whispering, erotically.

No males for bulbs - what the women’s activists have to say

Dr. Sepala Kottegoda, the Joint Coordinator of the Women and Media Collective, thinks that most of the advertisements we see on television today are offensive. "But the general argument is how do we define offensive?"
"I think most advertisements are offensive when the advertisers end up portraying stereotypes as roles which are looked down upon by society. This is what I term 'offensive advertising'".
How come advertisers never use the male physique to sell products the same way they use women's bodies?
"The light bulb advertisement which was aired some time ago was extremely offensive.
We made it a point to air our views, and subsequently the advertisement was pulled out."
Advertising is an extremely innovative field - the advertisers can use their imagination and come up with totally new, fresh ideas, and actually make the advertisement interesting.
"Howcome they do not do this? Why don't they move away from stereotypes?" are the questions she poses to everyone in this field, and urges the general viewer not to sit passively and take what ever that is thrown in their faces- but to react and show that you do not agree.

The product advertised? Tea.
Alluring curves of a woman. Compared to the impersonal outlines of a light bulb.

The product? Light bulbs.

An elderly man and his wife waiting for a bus. A young woman walks by. The man then starts talking about shapeliness and smoothness. The woman instantly jumps to the conclusion that he is talking about the young woman who passed by, but she's mistaken!

Tyres - the product being advertised here.

A topless woman. Guaranteed to catch your eye. But here, a man stands next to her completely uninterested. And the caption reads "You need a better reason to take it all off."

The product advertised? A shirt.

This is advertising in Sri Lanka.

A powerful tool

One of the most powerful forms of communication ever thought of by man, advertising could influence a person and convinces him or her to do whatever you want him or her to do, or buy whatever you want them to buy.

Advertises thus have a powerful tool in their hands.

But with this great power comes great responsibility.

Yet, the majority of the advertisements we see on our TV screens and in our newspapers, not to mention in all other forms of media, fall short in many aspects.

Some of them, (we leave you, the reader, to decide which), are in woefully bad taste, and show no respect for our lifestyles or mores.

The public at large have in recent times expressed their views in a spate of letters on offensive advertisements.

"It is plain disgusting," one irate reader commented. "I have two young children, and as a parent who urges the children to read the papers, I have to say that I cannot ask them to do so anymore. So many advertisements are somewhat pornographic in nature and that is not what I want to expose my children to. Why can't we do something about this; like have a regulatory body which will decide which of the ads can be aired and which cannot?"

Why indeed?

Reggie Candappa, Chairman of Grant McCann Erickson, the 'godfather' of advertising in Sri Lanka agrees that the state of advertising in Sri Lanka is far from ideal.

"As a person who has been in this industry for more than 40 years, I have to admit this is not what I would call tasteful advertising". Advertising has to be in good taste, he says.

"No amount of advertising, be it good or bad, would sell a bad product. And what is most important in the end, is that we are trying to sell a product; not make all the consumers think that this is the most sordid advertising they ever saw.

That would definitely not sell a product- and it is not what advertising is all about!"

At present there are more than 1000 advertising agencies in Sri Lanka. Why this proliferation? Agencies cannot handle competitive brands and hence when an agency has to create the advertising for a particular product they try their best to outdo the advertisements another agency has created for the same product of a different brand.

This is when the competition sets in! And where things start going wrong.

Unfair portrayal?
Many advertisements today portray either women or children.

Children are made use of in a manner that would tempt all children at large.

"This is generally called subliminal advertising", says Kenneth Honter, Director Operations, Minds FCB. "Come to think of it, we really aren't being fair, but that is advertising!"

Moreover, most ads today portray woman as a sex object.

Why then is there no law to regulate such advertising?

"The law that involves advertising is an unwritten law; it is more of a self-regulatory law," Honter explains.

"The advertisements we see today reveal that we are thought of nothing more than something to 'turn' men on.

Take the ad with the topless woman in the papers. It was downright offensive to all women," says Nalika Perera. "I felt so insulted," she added.

A number of women echoed her feelings.

Commented Nimal Gunawardane, Managing Director at Bates Strategic Alliance, "This is an industry where we should be able to say 'Yes, this is right' and 'No, this is wrong'.

Just because we are in a position to come up with anything, because advertising is all about creativity, does not mean that we can offend people. Ultimately they are our customers."

Opinions vary

However, the agency behind the ‘topless woman’ ad believes that this advertisement was not in bad taste.

Dinesh Watawana, CEO, 7th Frontier, agrees that a majority of the advertisements made in Sri Lanka fall short when it comes to showing consideration for women, but said this ad 'was all in good taste'.

What may be in good taste for me, could not be in good taste for another person," he said, " I cannot do much about that."

The agency had asked a number of people what they thought of the advertisement, he said, and "they did not have a problem with it.

The name of the brand had stuck in their minds and that shows we were effective," he said.

Is being 'effective' all that counts? Well, it is a bonus, if the advertisement, as Watawana says, is in good taste.



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