Health advocates demand regulations on consumption of junk food ads

by Rahul Devi

A group of public health experts, consumers, lawyers, and patient groups have raised concerns about the alarming rise in the consumption of junk food among India’s youth. With obesity and diabetes becoming major public health crises in the country, there is an urgent need to address this issue.

According to a report titled “The Junk Push” jointly released by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPi), India is facing a severe challenge in combating obesity and diabetes. The report highlighted the findings of the 2023 ICMR-INDIAB study, which revealed that there are currently 100 million cases of diabetes in the country. Shockingly, one in every four individuals is either suffering from diabetes or is pre-diabetic or obese.

Even more concerning is the fact that a recent study conducted using the Poshan tracker showed that 43 lakh children under the age of five are already obese or overweight. This accounts for only 6 percent of the total number of children tracked, indicating a much larger issue at hand.

The consumption of junk food is identified as one of the main contributors to the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases among young adults and children. The report emphasizes the need for the government to take immediate action against the advertisements of foods that are high in sugar and salt content.

The report highlights how these advertisements often mislead consumers, relying on celebrity endorsements, emotional appeals, and unsubstantiated health claims. Additionally, none of the advertisements provide essential information required by the Consumer Protection Act 2019, such as the amount of sugar, salt, or saturated fat in the food product.

Arun Gupta, a pediatrician and convenor of NAPi, stated that existing regulatory policies are ineffective in curbing the misleading advertisements of junk foods, primarily targeted at children and adolescents. It is crucial to establish stronger regulations to protect vulnerable populations and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases.

Apart from addressing the advertising issue, public health advocates are also calling for improved legislation to tackle the broader public health crisis related to non-communicable diseases. By mobilizing a bill in the Parliament, they believe that it would be possible to fill the gaps in the current regulatory system and implement more effective measures.

According to a study conducted by WHO India in August 2023, the retail sale of ultra-processed foods has been growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.37 percent between 2011 and 2021. This statistic emphasizes the need for urgent action to curb the consumption of unhealthy food products and promote healthier dietary choices among the population.

In conclusion, the growing consumption of junk food among India’s youth is a concerning trend that requires immediate attention. With obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketing, urgent measures need to be taken to regulate advertisements promoting unhealthy foods and to implement effective legislation to tackle the public health crisis. By addressing these issues, India can pave the way for a healthier future for its citizens.

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