Leading doctors and experts participating in a national session conducted by AIIMS Rishikesh and GMC College, Srinagar on “Addressing Cardiovascular Diseases through Front of Package Labelling in India” has recently urged the need for simple measures such as front-of-package labels (FOPL) that can make a paradigm shift in the food consumption pattern of the country and as a result, avert an impending NCD crisis (Noncommunicable disease).
There has been a significant increase in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases in India in the last two decades. A large percentage of these deaths and cardiovascular incidences are linked to dietary risk factors indicating a clear correlation with excessive intake of sugars, total fats, saturated fats, trans fats and sodium.
Dr Salim Khan, HOD, Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar cautioned that, “Cardiovascular disease has emerged as a deadly killer, and nearly 5.8 million people or 1 in 4 Indians are at a risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70. Of these, more than 28 per cent deaths are related to heart attack and stroke – a number that has gone up 2-3 times in the last two decades. Processed and packaged foods are a direct risk factor for obesity, heart, and circulatory diseases. People need to understand clearly and simply what is in the food that they are buying. Food labels have to interpret the nutrition information for consumers across age, income and literacy levels.”
Dr Rubeena Shahen, Ex Technical Director, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said, “Currently an FSSAI Working Group is determining thresholds for nutrients of concern (sugar, salt, and fats), in consultation with civil society groups, industry and nutrition experts. They are working towards a viable model for India.”
As more and more countries adopt mandatory and strong FOPLs, India can join the growing list of countries that are realising the potential of urgent policy steps to safeguard the lives of people. FOPL works best when it is made mandatory, applies to all packaged products, the label is interpretative, simplistic, and readily visible, guided by a scientific nutrient profile model.