30 June 2012
New Delhi, India
The amount of salt and sugar on the menus of fast food companies in India may soon come under the scanner.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it would like to see the Union health ministry regulate the use of salt and sugar in the fast food being dished out.
Experts say junk food —high on salt and sugar content — is fuelling India's hypertension and obesity epidemic.
Dr Nata Menabde, country representative of the WHO, told TOI that the global health watchdogs would support India with scientific evidence to help better negotiate with companies on cutting down salt and sugar use.
“The ministry should put in place effective policies to reduce consumption of salt and sugar. However, there is also a need to change the tastes of general public," Dr Menabde said.
A recent "Consensus Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Living and Prevention of Obesity, the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes and Related Disorders in Asian Indians" says Indians have become more affluent, urbanized and mechanized. The easy availability of convenience foods have led to irregular meals and frequent snacking on energy dense fast foods that typically have low nutritional value and are packed with sugar.
WHO recommends consuming 5 grams of salt a day by an adult. However, an average Indian consumes 9-10 grams of salt a day.
Salt is known to cause hypertension that is responsible for 57% of deaths due to stroke, and 24% of fatalities caused by heart attack in India. Experts say just by reducing salt consumption, India can reduce incidents of stroke by 25% and heart attacks by 10%.
On the other hand, sugar is being considered the new enemy in Indian kitchens. A consortium of scientists recently said sugar is far from just "empty calories" that make people fat.
At the levels consumed by most, sugar changes metabolism, raises blood pressure, critically alters the signaling of hormones and causes significant damage to the liver — largely mirroring the effects of drinking too much alcohol.
Governments across the globe, including India, recently agreed to a historic target to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases by 25% by 2025.
The target was endorsed on May 26 at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. NCDs were behind 63% of all deaths worldwide in 2008.
The proposed targets to be finalized by October includes a 25% relative reduction in prevalence of raised blood pressure among persons aged 18 years and above (defined as systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure greater than 90 mmHg) and a 30% reduction in mean adult (aged 18+) population intake of salt, with aim of achieving recommended level of less than 5 grams per day.
Experts say common traditional beverages consumed in Asian Indian households including lemon water, tea and lassi are packed with sugar. An increase in consumption of sweetened carbonated beverages has seen a major rise among adolescents.