Wherever you go these days, you can’t escape food. On the streets, you find stalls selling pani puri, pav bhaji, chaat and so on. In upmarket areas, there are restaurants that serve every cuisine from Thai to Lebanese, Mediterranean and fusion. On flights, we have access to meals, again in various cuisines. But there’s one thing all this food has in common. It scores very low on the health index. Research has shown that most developed and developing countries have created an obesogenic environment.
An obesogenic environment is one that promotes and facilitates the rise of obesity in society. The typical parameters of an obesogenic environment are:
1. Foods with high sugar and fat content easily accessible to consumers. For instance, soft drinks, sweets, biscuits and namkeens are available in every nukkad. Look around you and you find that every store stocks packets of namkeen bhujiya, biscuits (most of which have maida and trans fats), chewing gum, sweets, chocolate, sweetened mouth fresheners, soft drinks, juices with sugar, and so on.
2. Most budget eating places sell high-salt foods made by deep frying. The nutritional value of such food is very low.
3. Schools usually have canteens with outsourced catering. These usually serve greasy patties and white bread sandwiches with beverages that have low nutritional value and high sugar content. This leads to an obesogenic impact on kids.
While it’s hard to think of ways to change the food environment in the world, I have some suggestions for schools.
1. Make it mandatory for only health foods to be served.
2. Make a visiting nutritionist part of the school faculty.
3. Give more school time to activities centred around health, sports and games.
4. Educate parents about healthy tiffins.
5. Make health checks mandatory.
If you have more suggestions to offer, please write to me about them.