Concerned about the increasing susceptibility of India’s youth to lifestyle diseases like cancer, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, scientists experts and doctors have written to the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), urging them to take responsibility for the consumer and impose scientifically and globally agreed ‘cut offs’ on nutrients of concern in all packaged and processed food.
The signatories are part of the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a think tank consisting of technical experts, academicians, administration, medical and public health professionals working on nutrition policy in the public interest for the past five years.
The letter is the outcome of a webinar held earlier this month where the findings of the recently conducted Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey data were discussed. The survey revealed that among children between 5 to 19 years of age, 56% had cardiometabolic risk factors, with similar prevalence in those who are believed to be undernourished: thin-54% and stunted-59%.
One astounding fact that came up was that more than 5.8 million (58 lakh) Indians die every year from Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) or lifestyle diseases such as cancer, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. These deadly diseases are difficult to treat but can be easily prevented by modifying diets and supporting a healthier, sustainable food system. With the growing Indian economy, the consumption of packaged foods, high in sugar, salt and bad fats is seeing explosive growth, even in rural areas, across all socio-economic groups in the country.
In a letter to FSSAI, NAPI’s Chairman and Former Union Health Secretary Keshav Desiraju said: “If these alarming signals are ignored now, India will pay heavily with a very large wave of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) that will attack this generation of children as they grow into adults. Front-of-the-Pack-Labelling is one of the recommended core interventions to mitigate this alarming situation. Several countries including Brazil and Mexico have utilized the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended ‘cut offs’ for nutrient profiling to come up with the easily understandable front of pack labelling for packaged food with high fat, sugar, and/or salt (HFSS) content.”
While requesting for a policy change where “Front of pack labels on packaged foods with more than one ingredient should be based on the WHO recommended thresholds as these are being used worldwide,” the organisations also expressed its belief that food safety for consumers of packaged foods should be assured through appropriate packaged information based on relevant evidence instead of the marketing-based influence of the food industry.