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Pallavi-Darade-Healthy-Maharashtra-Featured

India is a young nation, and the youth are the building blocks of the country. They contribute to the nation’s strength, development and play a pivotal role in nation-building. Stronger the youth, more prosperous is the nation. Healthy youth can build a healthy nation. And, to build a Healthy Maharashtra, we need to focus on the health of our youngsters.

Young children are the most vulnerable. They are easy to lure and do not have the capability to make the right food choices. So, it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to guide children to make healthy food choices. Junk food causes obesity, and obesity being the mother of all diseases, we need to protect our future generations from this global health threat. Today, India has second-highest obese children, next to China. If we don’t act now, we would be exposing our future to deadly diseases.

For junk food manufacturing companies, schools are their focal points as they are racing to have young children hooked on these food items. In my opinion, this is criminal and we, as a society, must take a firm stand against this.   

Balanced diet and exercise are the two major components of health. Healthy food habits at a young age help inculcate the same lifelong. Keeping this in mind, we have started the ‘Food Project’ in schools and colleges. This is the first-of-its-kind initiative in India, wherein we are approaching schools and colleges that have canteens. We are appealing to educational institutions to change their menu and make it healthier. We have prepared a healthy menu chart and guidelines have been issued to 25,000 schools across Maharashtra. Health education and awareness play an important role in prevention. So, we have shortlisted 50 dishes, which we are suggesting the schools to adopt as part of their menu. And, I must tell you, the response is positive and encouraging!

We need to inculcate healthy eating habits among the youth, and this responsibility lies with schools as well. We are also organising workshops across the state to spread the message of healthy food among teachers and principals. Renowned chefs, dietitians and nutrition experts have been roped in to guide the schools in this unique experiment to build a Healthy Maharashtra.

Schools should be a responsible place of eating; they just can’t be like restaurants or markets. Junk food has high amount of salt, sugar and fat. For junk food manufacturing companies, schools are their focal points as they are racing to have young children hooked on these food items. In my opinion this is criminal and we, as a society, must take a firm stand against this. Parents, teachers and food regulators like Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must work in the unison and break this cycle. Spreading awareness of imparting health education is the mantras to make Maharashtra healthy and prosperous.

Another important aspect of health is food safety. I feel proud that Maharashtra has been judged as one of the leading states in food safety by the Union government. Recently, we have bagged an award for our Food Safety Index.

Milk adulteration in Maharashtra has seen a significant dip over the past few years. We keep an eye on milk tankers entering the metro cities. We also carry out surprise raids to ensure adulterated milk does not reach the consumers. As the next step, we will be conducting workshops with milk producers to make them aware about food safety guidelines.

Regulating e-portals is a major challenge for us as so many of them have mushroomed recently. We have taken comprehensive action against online food delivery portals as we have found instances where food has been cooked in pathetic and appalling conditions. No contaminated food should ever reach be on anyone’s plate – this is our commitment to every citizen of Maharashtra.

Pharmaceuticals is also a very sensitive sector that directly affects the health of the citizens. Rampant use and distribution of antibiotics are causing major health problems. We need to have a robust system to spread health education at the grassroots level. As a drug regulator, we are carrying out concerted efforts to prevent spurious or drugs sub-standards drugs from reaching the state. My aim is to bring this number to zero.

Lastly, in my view, the FDA as a regulator should not forget the basics. Deterrence is very important for society to adhere to the laws and regulations. We must train and spread awareness so that people will respect and abide by laws.

The author is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Maharashtra

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