Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’ battle against junk food has got an unexpected boost from researchers in the US, where a government-funded study found that banning fast-food advertising on TV can reduce the number of overweight children by 18 per cent and obese children by 14 per cent.
Using data of nearly 13,000 children from the 1979 Child-Young Adult National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth issued by the department of labour, a team from the National Bureau of Economic Research reported a clear link between TV fast-food ads and eating behaviour in children in the Journal of Law and Economics.
A handful of countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland have government regulation on junk-food advertising.
While the health ministry in India is not yet considering a crackdown on junk-food ads, it’s talking tough on restricting junk food by making labelling mandatory. The proposed Food Safety and Standards Act covers all aspects of processed-food labelling, including nutrition content, percentage of fat, calories and GM labelling for foods containing genetically-modified organisms.
Consumer groups in India, however, have been demanding a ban on marketing junk food to children. “We want a complete ban on junk food TV ads from 6 am to 9 pm, no unhealthy food in school canteen, high taxation of processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar to reduce accessibility,” said Bejon Misra, executive director, Consumer Voice.
The Delhi government has banned colas and packaged junk food in government schools, but it’s not implemented. “Such bans are cosmetic and unless implemented, have no impact,” Misra said.
More than one in four students in Delhi’s public schools are overweight, a survey of 3,548 students by the Diabetes Foundation of India (DFI) reported. The study found that 29 per cent of public school students were overweight as compared with 11.1 per cent in government schools.
“Very few children are overweight because of medical reasons. The underlying cause for weight gain across all age groups is almost always bad diets and inactivity,” said Dr Anoop Misra, director of the department of diabetes and metabolic diseases, Fortis Hospitals and an adviser to the DFI.
The perception that “puppy or baby fat” disappears as children grow is a myth that puts their future health at risk, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) said earlier this year. While earlier studies showed that excess weight during teenage years pre-disposes adults to continued weight problems, the BMJ study found that the health problems were established before teenage years.
Some of the health risks associated with obesity are heart disease, type-2 diabetes, orthopaedic problems such as weight stress in the joints of the lower limbs and bowed legs, skin disorders such as heat rash, and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem and depression.