By Our Staff Reporter
Rishikesh, 13 Sep: A seminar was organised by AIIMS Rishikesh, today, on ‘Front of Pack Labels’ (FOPL). The seminar had delegates from AIIMS, PGIMER, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, Indian Public Health Association, Indian Academy of Paediatrics and the Epidemiological Foundation of India (EFI), along with leading doctors from other top medical institutes. They issued a clarion call for mandatory front-of-pack labels (FOPL).
It was asserted that millions of lives would be saved if India establishes scientific cut-off limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats, and mandates clear and simple warning labels on packaged products as has been done in countries like Chile, Mexico, and Brazil. They said that, 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.
Addressing the seminar, Prof 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.”
Chief Guest Dr Saroj Naithani, Director, National Health Mission, Uttarakhand, stressed that healthy eating should be a part of everyday life as was prescribed by the ancestors. “India has a rich tradition which advocates for food that is nutritious, pure and tasty, but with the advent of processed food life has changed. Youngsters are typically addicted to processed and packaged food. In this scenario, the front of package labels are helpful in informing the consumer about the healthiness of the product.
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. The world over, countries are recognising that consumers have the right to accurate health information regarding these products as part of their right to health. FOPL is a key component of a comprehensive strategy to promote healthier lives, as it enables consumers to identify in a quick, clear and effective way products that are high in the nutrient of concern associated with the NCD burden in India.
According to Euromonitor estimates, in India, the sale of ultra-processed food has increased from 2 kg per capita in 2005, to 6kg in 2019 and is expected to grow to 8kg in 2024. Similarly, beverages have gone up from less than 2 liters per capita in 2005 to about 8 liters in 2019 and are expected to grow to 10 liters in 2024. Dr. Sanjay Rai, President of Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), emphasised, “While FOPL is indeed one of the most effective approaches to positively impact public health, it is also important to choose the correct format.”
Dr Umesh Kapil said, “Experts across the world have conducted research and compiled field level studies to develop the NPM frameworks. The WHO SEARO model was put together in consultation with member countries in the region and is perfectly aligned to the Codex Alimentarius or food code.” All the experts present 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.