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Sugary drinks responsible for 1 in 200 deaths: Study

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By Charu Bahri

Sugar-sweetened beverages account for one in every 200 deaths caused by India’s rising tide of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, according to a 2015 study.

“Over 80 percent of those deaths happen because sugary drinks are associated with weight gain and diabetes,” Dariush Mozaffarian, study co-author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University in the US, told IndiaSpend. Another 15 percent of those deaths occur because sugar-sweetened beverages are an established cause of heart disease, said Mozaffarian.

Heart disease and diabetes have reached epidemic levels in India, together responsible for 28 percent of all deaths.

Over the last decade, obesity has more than doubled among men, and risen one-and-a-half times among women, according to the latest National Family Health Survey.

One or two sugary drinks a day – what you might consider “moderate” consumption, and hence safe – are enough to cause trouble, according to scientific evidence.

People consuming one to two servings a day are at 26 percent greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes than those consuming no sugar-sweetened beverage or less than a serving a month.

Women consuming two or more sugary drinks a day had a 35 percent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than infrequent consumers, according to this study. Men who averaged a can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack compared to men who rarely consumed sugary drinks.

How tax hikes cut demand: The Mexican experience

India’s battle with excess weight and lifestyle diseases has turned the focus on high-calorie foods and beverages, and in turn, on taxation – a tool with the potential to lower consumption.

Higher taxes increase prices, which in turn lower demand. It’s a formula that has worked in Mexico.

A new 10 percent tax on soft drinks, introduced in January 2014 with the objective of lowering consumption 10-12 percent, actually lowered overall consumption by 12 percent, or 4.2 litres per person by December, a new Mexican study showed. Poorer households witnessed a 17 percent decline in consumption.

A 20 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would cut India’s excess weight and obesity prevalence by three percent over a decade – and the cases of type-2 diabetes by 1.6% at current consumption growth rates – a 2014 study estimated.

That implies India would have 11.2 million fewer cases of obesity and 400,000 fewer cases of type-2 diabetes.

If soft drink consumption were to rise further – as it likely will, in line with the annual average growth of 13 percent since 1998 – the authors of the India study suggested that taxation would avert 4.2 percent of prevalent excess weight/obesity and 2.5 percent of type-2 diabetes cases.

In India, the weather impacts fizzy drink demand more than higher tax

In July 2014, the Indian government increased the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages by five percent, hoping to curb consumption.

With that, the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages touched approximately 18 percent, which sounds high, but not enough to make a sizeable dent in demand, according to IndiaSpend’s analyses.

Sales of aerated beverages increased 10 percent in 2014, according to the Indian Beverage Association, a lobby group. This is because “summer had already passed by July 2014, when the tax was increased”, Arvind Varma, secretary-general of the Indian Beverage Association, told IndiaSpend. About 40 percent of the soft-drink industry’s annual sales occur between April and June.

Sales of aerated beverages declined 10 percent between April and September 2015, “primarily because of the mild summer of 2015, but the additional five tax on aerated beverages has only served to deepen the impact on the industry”, said Varma.

Coca-Cola, the industry leader, referred to “unseasonal weather” for a “mid single-digit decline” in India sales between April and June 2015, with sales growing four percent between July and September.

Sales of sugar-sweetened fizzy beverages grew nine in 2014, when the extra tax was imposed, according to Euromonitor International, a market-intelligence company that projected similar sales growth in 2015.

If India’s last five percent tax hike has not served to curtail demand for sugary drinks, it may be time for another round of increases.

“India can expect the consumption of sugary beverages to fall in response to taxes that are high enough, because India, like Mexico, has a surfeit of price-conscious consumers and comparatively lower income levels, consumer segments that are more price-sensitive,” said Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition, University of North Carolina, and co-author of the Mexican study that advocates taxes as a disincentive.

In greater awareness, lies India’s health

The government should raise taxes, launch awareness campaigns, and curtail soft-drink availability, especially in schools and sports complexes, said health experts.

“Higher tax is definitely one of the strongest interventions to reduce consumption, but it should be accompanied by robust behavioral interventions to change social norms and perceptions,” said Manu Raj Mathur, research scientist and assistant professor at the Public Health Foundation of India advocacy. Mathur studies ways to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among adolescents and school children.

“Increasing awareness about the risks and health consequences of high sugar intake would help inspire sorely-needed dietary changes-permanently,” said Hemalatha R of Hyderabad’s National Institute of Nutrition.

Mathur said their interactions with adolescents from private schools in Delhi and their parents and teachers show that most believe sugar-sweetened beverages to mainly be fizzy drinks. “They did not recognize fruit juices in tetra packs as sugar-sweetened beverages and even referred to them as healthy alternatives to Coke and Pepsi,” he said.

Packaged fruit juices contain added sugar, as do most dairy-based beverages and sport and energy drinks. Parents and teachers want prominent film stars and sports people to counter celebrity endorsements of sugary drinks. Such advertisements lead adolescents into believing that sugary beverages in moderation are not harmful – a prominent qualitative finding of Mathur’s study. (IANS/IndiaSpend.org)(Photo: www.natureworldnews.com)

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  • Manthra koliyer

    Yes, sugary drinks are very harmful and affect our bodies.

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Alternative sanitary pads are here, but accessibility still an issue

The alternatives are slowly treading the path to being accessible to all, and their makers are optimistic about the future

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Accessibility of Sanitary Pads is still an issue. IANS

Awareness about the harm easily-accessible, plastic-based sanitary napkins have been causing to both health and the environment is spreading — but slowly. And helping the cause of better menstrual hygiene, many sanitary pad makers, NGOs and indigenous brands are turning towards natural products to produce sustainable pads.

Organic cotton, banana or jute fibre — and even old clothes — are now among the alternatives on offer to the sanitary pads sold by the MNCs in India.

An alternative for plastic sanitary pads.
Making of better sanitary pads in process.

But why do we need these alternatives?

According to reports, every plastic-based sanitary pad has non-biodegradable content which takes around 500-800 years to decompose. Apart from the threat to the environment, medical experts have also voiced concern over possible pelvic infection due to repeated use of these easily-available plastic pads.

One of the companies providing an alternative is Ahmedabad-based Saathi, which was started in 2015 by graduates from MIT, Harvard and Nirma.

“We realised that there was a need for an alternative, and urban women were looking for different products because they were becoming aware of the consequences of plastic-based pads. The idea of using banana fibre came up and we decided to make sanitary pads based on it,” Saathi co-founder Kristin Kagetsu told IANS. Banana fibre comes from the stem of the banana tree, which, after harvesting, is normally discarded. Saathi buys the stems from collectives of local farmers.

“After being disposed, Saathi’s pads degrade within six months, which is 1,200 times faster than the MNC pads. Since our products are made of natural materials, Saathi pads provide an experience free of rashes and irritation,” Kagetsu added.

It was not an easy ride for the founders of Saathi. Tarun Bothra, another co-founder, said apart from breaking the taboos associated with menstruation, another major challenge for them was to convince banana farmers to sell them the fibre for making pads. “Periods are something that farmers associate with being ‘impure’. So convincing them that it was better to use the banana fibre for the pads than letting it go as a waste was difficult, but we succeeded,” he noted.

Also Read: Taxing Menstruation? GST Denies Sanitary Napkins as Essential Commodity

Another sanitary pad maker, EcoFemme, based in Auroville, is also in the business of making eco-friendly menstrual products — they make cloth-based pads using organic cotton.

“Our target is women aged 18-35. Our products are sold in rural areas through our ‘Pads for Sisters’ programme which offers women the opportunity to buy the pads at a reduced price. The response is good, once there has been a conversation around the benefits,” said Laura O’Connell from EcoFemme.

It’s not just producing the pads; the makers have also taken up the responsibility of creating awareness about menstrual hygiene amongst women, especially in rural areas.

Anshu Gupta’s Not Just Piece of Cloth (NJPC) was among the first to turn clothes into pads. For over a decade now, ‘MyPad’ has been selling its products in rural areas where there is little access to sanitary pads, and even in cities.

“In earlier times, clothes were used. But it was portrayed that clothes were unhygienic. Yes, they are, if not cleaned properly. We at Goonj first thoroughly clean the clothes, make them hygienic, make the pads and the distribute them among women, especially in rural areas,” Meenakshi Gupta from NJPC told IANS.

Non biodegradable sanitary pads.
Plastic sanitary pads do not decompose easily.

She revealed that the idea of making cloth pads came when Goonj, an NGO, found that in rural areas, or even slums of urban cities, women use clothes during menstruation. “It is better to use hygienic clothes than nothing. Women in rural areas lack the knowledge that if used in a hygienic way then clothes are equally good. We don’t aim to make profits, rather make women aware about periods. We have observed quite a change (in attitudes),” she added.

When will such products make it to every household?

Although Saathi has collaborated with local NGOs to reach out to rural women, its co-founder Bothra — also the company’s CTO — believes that the wider use of alternative sanitary pads is going to take some time in India.

“Frankly speaking, in rural areas women don’t even have an idea about sanitary pads; so knowing about the existence of biodegradable sanitary napkins or organic pads or even hygienic clothes is very rare,” Bothra, whose products are available on e-commerce platforms, explained. He further noted that since the MNC-produced pads are easily available at low cost, women don’t show much interest in investing money on the alternatives.

“Price is often a factor for women when it comes to the purchase of biodegradable or organic pads. When one is getting the plastic-based sanitary pads at a lower rate, they don’t like to shell out extra ,” Bothra noted. O’Connell said that though their products have a higher up-front cost, the pads can be used for three to four months — which saves money over time.

A better alternative for plastic sanitary pads.
Sanitary napkins being made from banana fibre.

“Our ‘Pads for Sister’ programme aims to make our pads affordable to women who would otherwise not be able to afford them; and our ‘Pad for Pad’ programme provides our pads to school girls for free,” she added. The alternatives are slowly treading the path to being accessible to all, and their makers are optimistic about the future.

“There is a growing awareness, but there is a lot of work to do to make reusable options more widely known. We believe in informed choices; so we hope that more people in all areas of India, not just rural, will become aware of sustainable options and make a decision based on the fact that reusable products are better for health, the planet and our wallets,” O’Connell commented. IANS