After Maharashtra government bans sale of junk food in school canteens to control childhood obesity, India’s food safety regulator now moots for additional tax on junk food.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) demands to levy additional tax on processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages, along with a blanket ban on advertising of junk foods and beverages on children’s channels and content for children across television, websites and social media.
According to FSSAI, in countries like Chile, there is a complete ban on junk food advertisement. It also recommends that celebrity endorsements of unhealthy foods should be discouraged.
The recommendation is part of FSSAI’s recent report on ‘Consumption of fat, sugar and salt (FSS) and its health effects on India’s population’.
The report, which was prepared by an 11-member panel of experts from medicine, nutrition, dietetics and medical research, has proposed ways to cut unhealthy food consumption and lower the rising burden of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Welcoming FSSAI’s recommendation, Naaznin Hussain, President of Indian Deitetics Association (IDA), Mumbai chapter, said, “In my view, media and advertisement should be responsible. On any kids’ channel, on an average every four minutes there is a commercial break for 90 seconds which has advertisements promoting foods that are high in fat and sugar. This needs to change with a series of healthy-eating and child-friendly messages using cartoon characters and media.”
She said higher taxation essentially may not mean that people will stop buying it. “The product may only mislead and lead to more designer products. An edutainment and informed choice will be more effective. Using signal colour codes like red (eat rarely), yellow (eat sometimes) and green (eat daily) in every food labelling is understood by all socio-economic groups,” said Hussain.
Dr Ushakiran Sisodia, Chief Dietician, Nanavati Hospital, said, “Counselling with nutritionist and eating traditional food helps in weight-loss in obese children. In our study, we found that many nuclear families have forgotten their traditional diet and embraced fast-food and westernised diet. Parents should remember that food should be fed in moderation to children and shouldn’t lose patience if they are trying to be fussy eaters.”
With childhood obesity continues to be a growing problem in today’s society, bariatric surgeons too have welcomed the state government’s move and FSSAI’s suggestion to control childhood obesity.
“In last five years, incidences of childhood obesity have gone up. This is due to the westernisation of our lifestyle. While earlier I used to see 2-3 children in a year with obesity problem, now I see same number of patients every month. We need stringent steps at government level to control this health epidemic,” said Dr Jaydeep Palep, Bariatric Surgeon, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.