‘Fifty Shades of Food Advertising’: Government norms on high fat in food on backburner

The report underscores the need for a clear definition of misleading advertisements, as numerous companies exploit the lack of clarity in this area.
Film star Hrithik Roshan in the Coca-cola advertisementYouTube.
Film star Hrithik Roshan in the Coca-cola advertisementYouTube.

NEW DELHI: Misleading advertisements for high-fat, sugar, or salt products are on the rise in India due to legal loopholes and inadequate monitoring, according to a study released on Friday.

The study highlighted that marketing for unhealthy food and drinks often uses emotional appeals, celebrity endorsements, and sensory triggers to portray these products as appealing choices.

In the process, they purposely conceal the list of ingredients used in these food and beverage products, which violates regulations, the study noted, making it crucial for public health officials, policymakers, nutritionists, and concerned consumers.

The research report, “Fifty Shades of Food Advertising,” conducted by the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a national think tank of independent medical experts, pediatricians, and nutritionists, suggests the need for revisions in regulatory frameworks at various government ministries and a solid monitoring system at the state level.

The report underscores the need for a clear definition of misleading advertisements, as numerous companies exploit the lack of clarity in this area.

It also recommended that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), India’s food regulator, include provisions in advertisements for disclosing nutrients of concern, such as sugar, salt, and fat. The study indicated that these are major underlying factors for the rise in obesity and diabetes.

The study examined 50 advertisements and revealed that nine products featured enticements such as cashback, vouchers, or discounts. Additionally, emotional appeals such as romance, passion, and a sense of belonging were prominent themes in 22 out of the 50 advertisements.

It turned out that none of the ads were upfront about important nutritional details such as sugar, salt, and fat content.

The study also noted that almost half of these ads featured famous Bollywood celebrities like Katrina Kaif, MS Dhoni, Siddharth Malhotra, Kiara Advani, Kareena Kapoor, and others, making them enticing enough for the public to buy these products.

The pervasive advertising and marketing of unhealthy HFSS food products, or ultra-processed food (UPF) products have made an entry into the diets of Indians, replacing their traditional diets, said Dr. Arun Gupta, who is a pediatrician and convenor of NAPi.

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