CHENNAI: Concerned by the increasing burden of lifestyle conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension, an expert committee set up by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recommended a slew of measures including banning junk food ads on children’s channels and during kids’ shows, additional tax and clear labelling of contents and ingredients.
The report ‘Consumption of fat, sugar and salt (FSS) & its health effects on Indian population’ prepared by the 11-member expert committee also suggested ways to reduce consumption of unhealthy food products, noting that over half of all deaths in the country were due to non-communicable diseases.
The FSSAI had constituted the committee to address this issue of high FSS content in food and associated health risks.
In its report, the committee recommended a ban on advertisements on foods with high FSS on children’s channels or shows. Such bans exist in smaller countries like Chile. Celebrity endorsements of such foods should be discouraged, and the online and social media should be sensitised to comply with this advertising ban.
It also recommended imposition of additional tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and ultra-processed food (ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat-and-eat foods) to reduce the intake of pre-packaged foods and beverages.
The other recommendations include positive nutritional labelling which plays an important role in creating awareness on healthier food choices. The labelling information should be made mandatory for total calories, the amount of carbohydrate, sugars, fat, protein, sodium, dietary fibre and amount of trans-fat added, experts observed.
The FSSAI scientific committee has approved the comments and suggestions put forth by the panel. Experts were called from the fields of medicine, nutrition, dietetics from renowned medical research and academic institutions, which was prompted by a related direction from the Delhi High Court on wholesome and nutritious food for children.
It is indeed time that attention is turned to high fat, salt and sugar content in food. Though the country has millions living in conditions that make them susceptible to the many communicable diseases, it is diseases and conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases that account for as much as 53 per cent of all deaths in India. A high intake of saturated and trans-fats, sugar and salt are known to significantly increase the risk of chronic diseases.
According to estimates, the number of such deaths is expected to touch eight million by 2020 — an alarming 100 per cent rise from what it was just two decades ago.
“Adverse health effect of consumption of fast or junk food which have a high content of fats, sugar and salt, on consumers, particularly in young children, has become a cause of concern,” the note on the committee report pointed out.
For this, however, the committee had to literally start from scratch. As the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006 does not define the term ‘junk food’, the committee defined it as foods like pizza, burgers and soft drinks, and snacks like samosas and pakoras.
Fats should be largely consumed in the unsaturated fat or fatty acid (of which there is one or more double bond in the fatty acid chain) form.
Excess sodium intake is an important determinant of hypertension and cardiovascular risk. According to WHO and ICMR, salt should be restricted to about 5-6 gm per day.
A total of 10 per cent of total energy is allowed as added sugars in daily diet. Simple sugars and refined carbohydrates should be reduced.
The expert committee analysed various studies on fats, sugar and salt consumption pattern in India and its effects on health. The studies showed consumption of these in the Indian population is high.
Junk in the trunk
It’s common knowledge that non-communicable diseases and cardiovascular illnesses are on the rise. Even though the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, doesn’t define junk or fast food per se, these have a high content of saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt.
Thus, an 11-member expert FSSAI panel has come up with eight recommendations to protect children from such consequences...
a) Fats: Monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fatty acids and low-fat dairy products should be consumed every day. Bakery goods, which contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and deep fried foods need to be restricted.
b) Sugar: Consumption of complex carbohydrates and natural sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables should be encouraged. However, the intake of simple sugar in sweetened beverages and processed snacks should be limited.
c) Salt: Presence of natural potassium in inexpensive, seasonal and locally available fresh fruits and vegetables improve sodium potassium ratio upon eating. Salt rich foods like snacks, pickles are to be avoided.
2. Monitor: Periodic monitoring of FSS intake at national level to get evidence and establishing regulatory limits.
3. Ban: Adverts about foods with high FSS should not be shown on children’s channels or during kids shows. Celebrity endorsements should be discouraged and social media websites should not promote any FFS content.
4. Additional tax: Ultra-processed commodities and sugar-sweetened beverages should have additional taxes slapped on them. It could help reduce FFS intake.
5. Awareness: The multifaceted approach should be utilised by bringing nutrition, agriculture, food industries, health and allied sectors into the loop. That way, public health campaigns and school education programmes can raise consumer awareness.
6. Reformulation: Industry should be encouraged to opt for food reformulation to reduce FFS content in packaged products.
7. Label: Positive nutritional labelling plays a big part in setting trends, so information with regard to total calories, food value, FFS amount should be mandatory.
8. Enable: A nutrition-sensitive environment, with health, agriculture and food sectors in sync, will encourage the consumer to switch to better patterns.