Junk food push causing severe public health crisis of obesity, diabetes in India: Report

by Rahul Devi

A new report titled “The Junk Push: Rising Consumption of Ultra-processed Foods in India – Policy, Politics and Reality” has urged the Indian government to take action against the increasing consumption of high fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS) foods, commonly known as junk food. The report, prepared by the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi) and the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), highlights the alarming public health crisis of obesity and diabetes in India.

The report reveals that India is facing a severe public health crisis, with 100 million cases of diabetes and one in every four individuals either suffering from diabetes, being pre-diabetic, or obese. The government had set a target to halt the rise of obesity and diabetes by 2025, but it seems nowhere close to achieving this goal. The report also reveals that 43 lakh (4.3 million) children under the age of 5 are obese or overweight, accounting for 6% of the total children tracked.

One of the major factors contributing to the rising consumption of junk food is the aggressive marketing and advertising techniques employed by food corporations. The report cites a WHO India study, stating that the retail sale of ultra-processed foods in India has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 13.37% between 2011 and 2021.

Scientific research has shown that consuming junk food leads to overeating, excessive calorie intake, and weight gain. Additionally, there is a higher risk of developing diabetes and experiencing premature mortality due to cardiovascular diseases with increased consumption of ultra-processed foods.

The report emphasizes that the existing regulatory policies in India are ineffective in minimizing misleading advertisements of junk foods, particularly those targeting children and adolescents. It calls for the implementation of preventive legal frameworks to control advertising and labeling of junk foods.

The report highlights the need for a stronger regulatory framework to control the damaging marketing and advertising practices that contribute to obesity and diabetes. It suggests that suitable legislation should be enacted to balance the right to commercial free speech with the right to life and health. It also recommends the implementation of front-of-pack warning labels and higher GST slabs on junk food sales to discourage consumption.

The report urges the government to exclude food companies or their representatives from the decision-making process when developing policies to reduce exposure to harmful marketing and consumption of junk foods. It also calls for the establishment of thresholds for sugars, salt, and saturated fats that would guide warning labels on junk foods and marketing restrictions.

In conclusion, the report highlights the urgent need for India to take decisive action to tackle the rising consumption of junk food. It provides specific recommendations to bridge the gaps in existing policies and work towards halting the rise of obesity and diabetes. By implementing preventive legal frameworks and promoting healthier food choices, India can protect its population’s health and well-being.

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