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Doctors, Health Experts Urge Use Of Warning Labels On Food Packets To Avert Health Crisis

Recently FSSAI has declared that it is set to finalise label design and a nutrient profile model

Doctors Urge Use Of Warning Labels On Food Packets To Avert Health Crisis
  • 62% rise in death if ultra processed food consumed 4 times a day: Study
  • With each extra serving of UPF, risk of death rises by 18%: Study
  • Salt, sugar and fats need to be reduced in diets: Experts

Pondicherry: Doctors and public health experts have urged that warning labels on the front of food and beverage packets should be a priority for India to avert a catastrophic public health crisis. Top doctors and public health experts assembled at the 65th Annual National Conference of Indian Public Health Associations (IPHACON), which coincided with PM Narendra Modi’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the ongoing United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS).

Also Read: Diversity In Diets For Better Nutrition: A Policy Perspective

IPHACON is a flagship event where health priorities of the country are discussed by delegates from premier medical, nutrition, social, environmental and allied institutes. Citing studies that have clearly established ultra-processed foods (UPF) as the biggest risk factor for many cancers, heart diseases and for the increasing probability of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, doctors urged that a safer food system should be the topmost concern. India’s FOPL journey has been a long one – riddled with pushback from the industry and a lack of consensus on the label design.
Recently FSSAI has declared that based on rounds of consultations and research, the regulatory body is almost all set to finalise the label design and a nutrient profile model for the country. Hailing this progress as timely, Dr Sanghamitra Ghose, Secretary-General of Indian Public Health Associations (IPHA) said,

Adoption of an effective front-of-pack label, preferably one that is interpretive and simple, is a critical policy tool and as doctors interacting with the rapidly escalating NCD crisis, we know the importance of this measure. If we are to safeguard the health of our youth and children, the time to fix the food system is now.

As India observes World Heart Day, cardiovascular disease or heart disease and stroke emerge as the top killers in the country. Heart disease or heart attack is the single largest cause of disease burden in the country. More than 60 per cent of total deaths in India are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Also Read: COVID-19 Has Caused One Of The Biggest Increases In World Hunger, Malnutrition In Decades: United Nations

With scientific and medical studies establishing unhealthy diets as a key modifiable risk factor for all types of NCDs, there is a growing momentum of countries beginning to introduce labelling laws to safeguard the health of their citizens. Drawing from her experience of working across multiple countries on food policy, Ms Vandana Shah, Regional Director, Global Health Advocacy Incubator said,

Although there may be different types of FOPL or label design, high-in warnings label systems such as the one adopted by Chile and four other countries is clearly emerging as the global best practice. There are two key measures of FOPL’s success – when consumers change their buying patterns which in turn encourages industry to reformulate. Studies coming in from Chile are already showing a significant reduction in consumption of sugar and salt consumption as well as industry taking steps to make their products healthier based on consumer shifts – all this with no economic loss to the industries. The right type of FOPL can actually encourage a whole paradigm shift – all the more reason why India, which accounts for 25 per cent of the global burden of heart disease, cannot afford not to get it right the first time.

More than 800 studies have shown that excessive consumption of UPF – 4 servings a day, is a major risk factor for stomach and colorectal cancer. There is a 62 per cent increase in death if UPF is consumed 4 times a day and with each extra serving, the risk of death increases by 18 per cent. Emphasising the need to focus on fixing the food supply so that critical nutrients of public health concern – salt, sugar and fats are reduced, Dr Pankaj Bharadwaj, Additional Professor, AIIMS Jodhpur said,

The famous Indian boast that we are all born with a sweet tooth, is costing us too dearly. Our social and cultural norms pivot around the exchange of sweets, as a result of which Indians end up consuming more than 4 times the amount of sugar that the world consumes. All ultra-processed foods have high levels of sugar, salt and fats and chemicals that are used for the processing actually make them addictive. It is a battle no different than the battle we fought against tobacco.

Dr Pradeep Agarwal, Associate Professor, Dept of CFM, AIIMS Rishikesh, said, “a speedy call action must be issued by the public health fraternity for strong FOPL on food and beverage products in India to prevent an NCD crisis. AIIMS regional chapters have been consistently urging on adopting a strong FOPL in the interest of public health.”

A science and evidence-based nutrient profile model which defines the maximum limit for these negative nutrients provides the base for a strong FOPL. President of the Epidemiological Foundation of India, Dr Umesh Kapil asserted that an NPM is the starting point and there is already a strong global model which can work in India.

The WHO SEARO model has been found to be effective by various studies including one that was conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition. We must without further delay make these thresholds mandatory, Dr Kapil said.

Experts have been saying that a weak labelling system will harm more than benefit. With seven years of deliberation behind it, India can no longer afford to experiment with less than adequate choices such as the traffic light label or the health star rating system, which though adopted by various countries, have come under fire for being a compromise that works in favour of the industry and fails to direct consumers towards healthier choices.

Also Read: Poshan Maah 2021: Can India Become Malnutrition Free? Nutrition Expert Dipa Sinha Answers FAQs on Nutrition

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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