Experts call for urgent policy intervention to fix scientific limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats in packaged food | India News

NEW DELHI: Public health experts and doctors have called for urgent policy intervention to fix scientific limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats and other harmful ingredients in packaged and ultra-processed food and beverages.
They have also demanded front of pack labels (FOPL) on these products to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice before consuming them.
Participating in a session on childhood obesity in India, these experts cited the fast expanding market of these products and warned against their adverse impact on the health of children.
With more than 14.4 million obese children, India has the second highest number of children with childhood obesity in the world. By 2025, this number will reach a staggering 17 million, they said.
“Usually, an increased consumption of unhealthy or processed food coupled with physical inactivity leads to this preventable condition. It is fast emerging as the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century,” according to Dr. Rekha Harish, Chairperson, Indian Academy of Pediatrics, NCD Prevention.
“Studies have shown that 75-80% of severely obese children will remain obese as adults and be at heightened risk of various NCDs,” Dr Harish added.
“There is enough scientific evidence and a globally agreed WHO SEARO framework for evidence-based cut-offs for anti-nutrients like sugar, salt and saturated fat present in packaged food. The Government of India should rapidly adopt these WHO recommended limits and also introduce simple, smart and interpretative front-of-package labelling (FOPL),” said Dr Umesh Kapil, Professor, Clinical Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Biliary Sciences (ILBS).
World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified FOPL as “one of the policy tools that can support healthy diets.”
So far 11 countries across the world have enacted laws making FOPL mandatory. India is still holding consultations with various stakeholders ot find a viable model.
Dr Manoj Kumar Gupta, Dean, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh, said, “Children are particularly at risk. As doctors, we want to assert that the onus should not be on children or their families alone to prevent or fight this condition. It is the collective duty of policymakers, the food industry and us as doctors to safeguard children and enable a nutritious food system for them.”
“Childhood obesity has several long-term impacts, some of which are irreversible. We need to set evidence-based limits on the high concentration of salt, sugar and fats in packaged foods so families have clear guidance when buying these products,” said Dr Ravi Kant, director and CEO, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown has added to the problem, felt the parents.
“In the last one year, with no school and minimal to zero physical exercise, my children have gained weight. It is difficult to always prevent them from consuming junk food which is associated with fun due to the way in which they are advertised and also because of their high sugar, salt and fat content. I wish there was a way to know which foods we should not be buying for our children,” said Ms Mithani, a mother and a homemaker.

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