Strong Regulations On Junk Food Labels Required To Curb Obesity In Children

School closures and lockdowns have already deprived millions of children of nutritional school meals, sports, and adequate physical exercise

There is growing evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic could potentially increase the risk of children becoming obese. Pixabay

Strong regulations to cap salt, sugar, and other harmful ingredients and simple to understand front of package labeling (FOPL) on junk food packets can help curb the alarming rise in childhood obesity in India, say public health experts and doctors, in a webinar organized by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Rishikesh on Friday. Warning labels are critical to helping consumers and parents understand how many empty calories and harmful nutrients are being consumed by children.

“Food labels should provide clear guidance… Simple to understand labels with evidence-based nutrition cut-off is a need of the hour and will go a long way to address the crisis of childhood obesity in the country,” said Umesh Kapil, Professor, Clinical Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Biliary Sciences. The experts also urged that India must rapidly adopt the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended limits and also introduce simple, smart, and interpretative FOPL.

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“There is enough scientific evidence and a globally agreed on WHO SEARO framework for evidence-based cut-offs for anti-nutrients like sugar, salt, and saturated fat present in packaged food,” Kapil added. WHO has identified FOPL as “one of the policy tools that can support healthy diets, both in stimulating consumers to make informed healthier food choices and in driving manufacturers to reformulate products to avoid making unfavorable nutrient content disclosure.”

Children
Warning labels are critical to helping consumers and parents understand how many empty calories and harmful nutrients are being consumed by children. Pixabay

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 is expected to reach a staggering 17 million. As is the trajectory in other developing nations, the proportion of packaged and ultra-processed foods is on the rise. There is growing evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic could potentially increase the risk of children becoming obese. School closures and lockdowns have already deprived millions of children of nutritional school meals, sports, and adequate physical exercise.

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“Being overweight or obese is directly associated with life-threatening noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Obesity is a result of an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended,” said Rekha Harish, Chairperson, Indian Academy of Paediatrics, NCD Prevention. The only way to control this growing epidemic of obesity is by establishing scientific cut-off limits for harmful ingredients and FOPL on packaged products, the experts suggested.

“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,” said Manoj Kumar Gupta, Dean, AIIMS Rishikesh. (IANS/JC)