New Delhi: If the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has its way, then sale and consumption of junk food as well as its advertising, providing free samples or even keeping vending machines inside schools will be banned in the country.
This could happen as early December. The FSSAI has put up a draft notification for which it has invited opinions and feedback.
It has been noted that FSSAI will resend the feedback received from the expert committee that has been constituted and then move ahead with a final notification on ban of junk food.
This move is a much-needed one given India’s increasing burden of type-2 diabetes. India is witnessing an accelerated rise in the prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases according to the National Health Profile 2019 and diabetes is one of them.
A World Obesity Federation study states that an estimated 27.4 million children and teenagers in the country will be afflicted by obesity in 2030, placing India only behind China which tops the list with 61.9 million obese children/adolescents between the ages of five to 19 years in just over a decade.
“Ours is a fast-evolving, consumer-based and middle-class to upper middle-class society. Indians have a very high level of obesity, hypertension and diabetes. The most vulnerable are children and India has 35% of its population under the age of 18 years. For preventive healthcare, we must enforce correct eating habits” said Dr Sanjeev Bagai, a senior consultant pediatrician and neonatologist and nephrologist.
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“No advertising or endorsements of junk or processed food should be allowed in schools or colleges or any public domain. None in sports arenas too. Awareness must be created that junk foods cause short-term and long-term harm in all age groups,” he added.
The FSSAI notification has come only after years of sustained agitation against consumption of fast food. In 2015, the Uday Foundation had moved the Delhi High Court seeking a ban on junk food.
The court had directed the FSSAI to form guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to school children in India and do away with junk food. This move was welcomed even by the Centre for Science and Environment that had done a detailed study on the harmful effects of junk food.
A survey was done to assess the popularity of fast food among children. It threw up startling results showing that at least 93% children consumed packaged food.
Amit Khurana, Programme Director (food safety and toxins) of Centre for Science and Environment, said it is a much-needed step. “Besides regulating availability of junk food in schools, it is important to regulate their promotion and advertisements targeted at school children. This has been the best practice in many parts of the world,” he said.
The new proposal says any school authority selling or catering school meals by itself in the school campus shall get registered as a food business operator (FBO) under the FSSAI.
It will be the responsibility of the school to ensure that pre-packaged foods are not sold or offered on campus. This includes food items with high sugar, fat and salt content. The school would also be required to engage with nutritionists and seek parental support to draft menu for children.
The State Food Authority shall encourage schools to adopt a comprehensive programme for promoting safe food and healthy diets among students and meet specified benchmarks to convert the campus into a ‘Eat Right Campus’ that focus on serving safe and healthy, local and seasonal food and ensure no waste.
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FBOs manufacturing HFSS food (high fat, sugar and salt) shall not advertise or offer the same for free to children on school premises or within 50m of the school campus and only offer premiums. Also, incentives such as toys and trading cards can be offered on food products that are not on high salt or sugar content.
FBOs shall support healthy eating in schools and not market, sell or give away low-nutrition foods or brands anywhere on school campuses.
School authorities shall have a system of regular inspection of premises to ensure that safe, healthy and hygienic food is served to students. The authorities may appoint a health and wellness coordinator or health and wellness team.
The State Food Authority shall conduct surveillance and periodic inspection of FBOs to ensure compliance of the Act, failing which the matter will be taken up with the education department for required action.
“In general, nutrition literacy is important for everyone, including Indians. In the backdrop of aggressive messaging and claims, it is important that consumers are informed adequately and appropriately to enable an informed choice” said Khurana.
Also, the new guidelines resonate with the current political dispensation’s ‘Eat Right’ and ‘Fit India’ campaigns.
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