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Doctors and health experts advocate for the inclusion of warning labels on food packaging



To avoid a catastrophic public health crisis, doctors and public health professionals have asked India to make warning labels on the front of food and beverage packs a top priority in order to avoid a catastrophic public health catastrophe.


At the 65th Annual National Conference of Indian Public Health Associations (IPHACON), which took place in conjunction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as well as the ongoing United Nations Food Systems Summit, top doctors and public health experts convened (UNFSS).


IPHACON is a major event where delegates from the country's leading medical, nutrition, social, environmental, and associated institutions come together to debate the country's most pressing health issues.


Doctors suggested that a safer food system should be the primary priority, citing research that have clearly established ultra-processed foods (UPF) as the most significant risk factor for numerous malignancies, heart disorders, and the growing likelihood of mortality due to cardiovascular diseases.


The FOPL path in India has been a lengthy one, marred by opposition from the sector and a lack of agreement on the label design. Recently, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) announced that, following rounds of consultations and research, the regulatory body is almost finished with the design of the label and the development of a nutrient profile model for the country.


In a statement praising the progress as "appropriate," Dr Sanghamitra Ghose, Secretary-General of the Indian Public Health Associations (IPHA), said, "Adoption of an effective front of pack label is an important policy tool, and as doctors working with patients suffering from the rapidly escalating NCD crisis, we are acutely aware of the importance of this measure." We must address the food system now if we are to protect the health of our young and children in the future.


As India commemorates World Heart Day, cardiovascular disease (heart disease) and stroke are identified as the leading causes of death in the country. Heart disease, sometimes known as a heart attack, is the leading cause of disease burden in the United States.


More than 60% of all deaths in India are caused by noncommunicable diseases, according to official figures (NCDs). In light of scientific and medical studies demonstrating that unhealthy diets are a significant modifiable risk factor for all sorts of noncommunicable diseases, an increasing number of countries are introducing labelling legislation to protect the health of their populations.


Ms Vandana Shah, Regional Director, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, drew on her years of experience working on food policy issues in multiple countries to say, "Although there are different types of FOPL or label design, high-in warnings label systems such as the one adopted by Chile and four other countries is clearly emerging as the global best practice." One of the most important indicators of FOPL's effectiveness is when consumers modify their purchasing patterns, which in turn stimulates the industry to reformulate."


As a result of consumer movements, studies from Chile are already showing a considerable reduction in sugar and salt consumption as well as industry taking steps to make their goods healthier - all without any economic impact on the industries." It is possible that the appropriate form of FOPL can actually inspire a complete paradigm shift – which is all the more reason why India, which accounts for 25 per cent of the worldwide burden of heart disease, cannot afford to get it wrong the first time," Shah continued.


There have been more than 800 studies that have demonstrated that excessive intake of UPF – 4 servings per day – is a significant risk factor for stomach and colorectal cancer. In the case of UPF consumption four times per day, the risk of death increases by 62 percent, and with each additional serving, the risk of death increases by 18 percent.


Dr Pankaj Bharadwaj, Additional Professor, AIIMS Jodhpur, stressed the importance of focusing on fixing the food supply so that critical nutrients of public health concern – salt, sugar, and fats – are reduced. "The famous Indian boast that we are all born with a sweet tooth is costing us far too much," he said. Due to the fact that Indian social and cultural standards revolve around the exchange of sweets, we consume more than four times the amount of sugar that is consumed around the world."


In fact, the chemicals employed in the preparation of ultra-processed foods make them addicting since they include high levels of sugar, salt, and fats. According to Dr Bharadwaj, "this is a war that is no different from the one we fought against tobacco."


The public health community, according to Dr Pradeep Agarwal, Associate Professor, Department of CFM, AIIMS Rishikesh, "must issue a swift call action for strong FOPL on food and beverage goods in India to prevent an NCD disaster." Regional chapters of the American Institute of Internal Medicine have continuously urged for the adoption of a strong FOPL in the interest of public health."


A science- and evidence-based nutrient profile model that sets the maximum permissible level of these negative nutrients serves as the foundation for a successful FOPL policy. In his speech, Dr Umesh Kapil, President of the Epidemiological Foundation of India, stated that an NPM is a good beginning point and that there is already a robust global model that can be applied in India.


"A number of studies, including one conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition, have found the WHO SEARO model to be highly beneficial." The implementation of these thresholds must be completed as soon as possible," Dr. Kapil stated.


The majority of experts believe that an inadequate labeling system will cause more harm than good. The country cannot afford to experiment with less-than-adequate options, such as the traffic light label or the health star rating system, which, though widely used in other countries, have come under fire for being a compromise that works in the interests of the industry while failing to direct consumers toward healthier choices.

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