Public health experts and doctors, in a multistakeholder session on childhood obesity in India, highlighted the need for urgent policy action to establish strong limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats and other harmful ingredients in packaged and ultra-processed food and beverages.
The experts representing leading institutions such as AIIMS, Rishikesh; Indian Academy of Paediatrics and Indian Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences said that the only way to control this growing epidemic of obesity is by establishing scientific cut-off limits for harmful ingredients and front of pack labels (FOPL) on packaged products which can educate the public and help consumers make informed, correct choices.
Dr Umesh Kapil, Professor, Clinical Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Biliary Sciences (ILBS) says that India needs to establish clear cut-offs for salt, sugar and saturated fats. He adds, "The Government of India should rapidly adopt these WHO recommended limits and also introduce simple, smart and interpretative front-of-package labelling (FOPL). Food labels should provide clear guidance, for example, black octagons adopted in Chile that says upfront whether or not foods contain an excess of fats or sugars. 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.”
He also warned that implementing a strong and effective FOPL will face hurdles as the food industry is likely to delay or divide the scientific community.
Drawing attention to clinical evidence that clearly correlates consumption of ultra-processed food to a number of serious health conditions, Dr Manoj Kumar Gupta, Dean, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh, said, “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.”