Leading doctors from the AIIMS have called for a systemic approach to manage the rapidly rising prevalence of diabetes in the country, with particular emphasis on policy actions to establish science-based limits on saturated fats, salt, sugar (FSS) in packaged and ultra-processed food and beverages.
This call to action was made at a national session on June 29, 2021, by AIIMS Jodhpur, on “Addressing Diabetes Mellitus through Front of Package Labelling in India”.
Dr Madhukar Mittal, Addt. Professor, Dept. of Endocrinology and Metabolism, AIIMS, Jodhpur said, “Sugar is the new cigarette. Lab studies have revealed that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. It increases insulin production which drives up fat storage causing damage to all organ systems. Consumption of added sugar in packaged and processed food has gone up exponentially. India’s sugar consumption has grown at double the pace as compared with other markets in the world. Most packaged foods and beverages have extremely high quantities of sugar. Since the choice of food is driven by markets and policies, we need to have strong policy measures in place that will enable consumers to make healthier choices.”
Per capita sales of ultra-processed foods grew from about 2 Kg in 2005, to about 6kg in 2019 and is projected to grow to about 8 kg by 2024.
Dr Pradeep Aggarwal, Associate Professor, Dept. of Community and Family Medicine from AIIMS, Rishikesh, said “Strong regulations to cap salt, sugar and other ingredients of concern and simple to understand front of package labelling (FOPL) on the food are critical to help consumers and parents understand how much empty calories and harmful nutrients are being consumed by children. Globally, WHO has established evidence-based cut offs for sugar, salt and fat consumption region wise and governments should adopt these cut offs for packaged food. Food labels should provide clear guidance to consumers, for example black octagons adopted in Chile that say upfront whether or not foods contain excess of fats or sugars.”
More and more countries today are adopting science-based nutrient profile models and making front of pack warning labels on food products mandatory. Labels on the front of the package make it readily visible for consumers to read the ingredients, specifically, sugar, sodium and saturated fat, and can discourage the purchase of unhealthy packaged food. Thus far, 11 countries across the world have enacted laws making FOPL mandatory.