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We need laws to fight calorie monsters

Many years ago, restaurants used to put up a board declaring the cooking medium used by them. The information, though not clear if it was mandatory, certainly helped consumers.Pushpa Girimaji tells more..

india Updated: Jul 07, 2008 00:21 IST
Pushpa Girimaji

Many years ago, restaurants used to put up a board declaring the cooking medium used by them. The information, though not clear if it was mandatory, certainly helped consumers.

Today, we have a larger variety of cooking oils to choose also avoid high-calorie diets and try our best to eat right. But how come we never ask questions about the oil used or for that matter or the calorie content when we eat out - particularly fast food restaurants?

Recently, restaurants in New York have begun to display information about the food on their menu and you will be shocked at the obscene calorific values of some of these foods ! From eating one single dish, you could be consuming as much as 2310 calories, whereas your requirement for the entire day could well be as low as 1600-2000 calories.

This display of information has not come about voluntarily, but through a new regulation passed by the Board of Health, New York City, (some restaurant chains filed law suits against it and lost) . The regulation that came into effect from March 31 this year requires NY restaurants to prominently display calorie information on their menus and menu boards. This new law applies only to restaurant chains that have 15 or more outlets nationwide and from July 18, restaurants can be fined for non-compliance.

The board said studies show that people who eat fast food regularly consume more calories than those who do not. Authorities say this regulation could reduce the number of people who suffer from obesity by 150,000 over the next five years, preventing more than 30,000 cases of diabetes.

This is an excellent idea. It respects the consumer's right to information, choice and promotes healthy living. Obesity in India may not be as bad as in the US, but it does exist and is growing, particularly among affluent children and youths in large cities.

There are different guesstimates on the problem. While some put the percentage of overweight and obese urban Indians at as much as 30 to 50 , some put the percentage of obesity in the country to be in the range of 15 to 18 per cent and expect it to go up to 25 per cent by 2020.

More accurate figures are available from smaller studies undertaken with specific groups. For example, a study (2001-2003) of Bengali women in the age group of 20-50 years living in North Dum Dum Municipal area put the percentage of obesity at 17.45 per cent and the share of overweight people at 37.24 per cent.

Similarly, studies have indicated the problem of obesity and overweight among affluent school children in Delhi to be 7 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. In Tamil Nadu the percentage of obesity among this group is said to be as much as 15 per cent.

Given the rapid growth and spread of fast food chains, food courts and malls in every Indian city/town, I would expect the problem of obesity to only grow in the coming years. Unless, of course, we take appropriate measures such as the one introduced in New York.