New Delhi: Packaged foods and beverages should have clear mandatory Front of Pack warning labels (FoPL) to help consumers make healthy and safe decision, lawmakers and experts expressed their concern on how rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes has overburdened country’s health system.
According to the ICMR State Level Disease Burden Initiative, 2016, non-communicable diseases NCDs, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer accounted to an estimated 60 lakhs deaths, constituting 62% of the total mortality of that year. Diets high in salt, sugar and fats is a major risk factor for these chronic and difficult to treat ailments.
BJP Member of Parliament (MP) from Rajya Sabha, Sushil Modi batted for stringent health warning on the unhealthy packaged foods specifying that it has HFSS ( High in Fat, Sugar and Salt). “The warnings should be on the lines of those on the cigarette packets that “smoking is injurious to health.”
“This would help people make healthy and safer choices,” the former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Sushil Modi said, while participating at a first-of-its-kind roundtable discussion on “F0PL, impact of packaged foods on health” organized by the Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics (IGPP) at the Constitution Club of India (CII) on Wednesday, 15th Dec, 2021.
Another prominent BJP MP in Rajya Sabha, who also served as Director and Commandant of the Armed Forces Medical College, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Dr. DP Vats said that the sedimentary lifestyle and increased consumption of packed food is presenting an imminent threat to the nation’s health and economy. He emphasised that this has lead in increasing diabetes among the people.
The MPs meet comes at a time when FSSAI, the controlling body for packed food quality in India is deliberating on adoption of the FoPL for packaged food and beverage industry which in the absence of adequate guidelines has been rampantly dishing out packaged foods high in fat, salt and sugar, resulting in increasing NCDs cases.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 58 Lakh Indians die every year due to preventive NCDs. In fact, the global health body too has favoured the FoPL saying it works best when it is made mandatory and applies to all packaged products, the label is interpretative, simplistic and readily visible, guided by a strong nutrient profile model.
Agreeing with his party colleagues, MP from the Upper House, Deepak Prakash called for launching an intensive awareness campaign for FoPL particularly in rural India where packed foods have penetrated at an alarming level.
Dr Naval K Vikram, leading diabetologist and professor at the department of medicine of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi talked about the strategic role the FoPL can play in helping bring down the NCDs.
“This would avert an impending NCD crisis such as diabetes, heart disease and various forms of cancer, mainly caused by consumption of processed and packaged foods high in salt, sugar and fats. Warning labels would guide people to make healthier choices and even bring down their consumption of these unhealthy foods.”
Those who participated in the roundtable other than mentioned above included ruling party MPs from Rajya Sabha Shiv Pratap Shukla, Mahesh Poddar, Ram Kumar Verma and Lt Gen (Retd) Dr DP Vats and BJP Lok Sabha MP, Sanjay Seth among others.
Director of the IGPP, Dr. Manish Tiwari said childhood obesity is on the increase in the country. He said in India around 1.5 crore children are suffering with childhood obesity. If appropriate steps such as making FoPL mandatory are not taken, India would soon become the world’s Capital of Childhood Obesity.
Dr Naval pointed out that developing countries like Chile have begun to positively impact public health and reduce consumption and sale of sugar sweetened beverages by making the FoPL mandatory for the food industry.
He explained that Chile has mandated high in warning labels – considered the golden standard front-of-package warning labels, restricted marketing to children, and banned in-school sales of packaged foods and beverages high in calories and added sugar sodium, or saturated fat and exceeding set thresholds for these nutrients or for overall calorie content to carry FoPL—black octagon(s) with the words high-in sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and/or calories, whichever applies.
In comparison, in India, the food regulator, Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has been deliberating on the FOPL issue since 2013 but is yet to frame a policy for a string FoPL, the experts pointed out.
According to the Global Nutrition Report, 2021 (GNR) released last month, as many as 12 million people died prematurely in 2018 due to risks linked to consumption of an imbalanced and unhealthy diet. These risks included non-communicable diseases (NCD).