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With India facing unhealthy diet, health experts call for implementation of FOPL

According to the data revealed by the health experts, nearly 5.8 million people or 1 in 4 Indians are at risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70.

SNS | New Delhi |

Health experts from all across the country have unanimously called for a mandatory front-of-pack food label (FOPL). With 135 million people obese and deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the rise, India is facing the devastating impact of an unhealthy diet.

Packaged junk food which is a major component of unhealthy diets is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor and is a leading cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer.

Citing an exponential rise in market availability of ultra-processed foods containing high levels of sugars, sodium and saturated fats as a key contributor to this obesity epidemic and upsurge in NCD prevalence, India’s top medical experts urged the adoption of an effective FOPL is the need of the hour.

At an event organised by AIIMS Rishikesh, experts have agreed to send a set of recommendations to the Ministry of Health and hope to work with the government of India towards a healthier and accountable food system.

They said it is encouraging to note that the FSSAI has revived FOPL related consultations.

In 2018 the Food Safety Standards Authority India (FSSAI) published a draft regulation for FOPL which was subsequently withdrawn for further deliberation. In 2019 December, FSSAI delinked FOPL from general labelling regulations and is currently seeking inputs from consumer rights organizations, industry and nutrition experts for a viable model for India.

While delivering the keynote address, Dr Ravi Kant, Director, AIIMS Rishikesh said, “A strong and effective FOPL is a public health priority for India. The medical community of India stands in solidarity with this important policy measure that will protect thousands of Indian lives.”

According to the data revealed by the health experts, nearly 5.8 million people or 1 in 4 Indians are at risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70.

India’s deadly second wave of Covid-19 has demonstrated that NCDs also compound the burden of infectious diseases on health systems, with hospitals ill-equipped to meet the sudden surge of demand for patient care. Poor diet, as a result of packaged and ultra-processed food, is a leading cause for this gradual epidemiological shift in India’s disease burden.

According to Dr Suneela Garg, President, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM), “All of these conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease or cancers are closely linked to excessive intake of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods and beverages. World over, countries are recognizing that consumers have the right to accurate health information regarding these products as part of their right to health. Having incomprehensible or misleading information about a food product puts them at a higher risk of making uninformed choices that lead to overweight, obesity and other diet-related conditions.”

Leaders from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM), Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), Indian Academy of Paediatrics and Epidemiological Foundation of India (EFI), along with leading doctors from other top medical institutes were part of the event.

Dr Sanjay Rai, President of, Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), emphasised that “While a FOPL is indeed one of the most effective approaches to positively impact public health, it is also important to choose the correct format. Evidence from across the world indicates a warning label system of FOPL – such as the “high in” warning symbols adopted in Chile. These interpretive and direct labels are most effective in supporting healthy food choices. They also are most likely to motivate product reformulation. Given the evidence, we should consider adopting these nutrient-based labels without further delay.”