World Heart Day (29th September, 2021) Special
; Make FOPL mandatory: appeals experts on World Heart Day
Cardiovascular disease or heart disease and stroke are the top killers in India. To safeguard the heart and health of our youth and children, the time to fix the food system is now.
NEW DELHI: Stakeholders like public, parents, activists and medical fraternity who are at the receiving end due to consumption of unhealthy packaged foods-laden with high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) should join hands to persuade the Government to make Front Of Packaging Labels (FOPL) warnings mandatory for the food industry.
This was asserted by leading cardiologist Dr Rohit Goel, consultant at Fortis Hospital, Gurugram on the ‘World Heart Day’ being observed on Wednesday as he shared how such an unhealthy diet is causing immense damage to the heart in particular and overall body in general.
Dr Goel said that unchecked consumption of unhealthy food and sedentary lifestyle is causing havoc on the heart with youth as young as 40 years dying due to heart diseases. “Heart disease results from the narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood due to gradually built up of fatty deposits (or plaque) on the inside of the artery walls, narrowing the space in which blood can flow to the heart.
“Narrowing of arteries can start when you are young, so by the time you reach middle age, it can be quite advanced, ” he said. Hence, for the sake of heart, the kids also must be aware of what they are consuming.
In this connection, FOPL warnings are the need of the hour and they should be made mandatory on an urgent basis for the food industry so that consumers have informed and healthy choices while purchasing packaged foods, he added.
To substantiate his argument, he cited mandatory pictorial warnings on tobacco products which have educated consumers about the health risks of tobacco usage and changed people’s perception.
“Similarly, FOPL too can help cut down non-communicable diseases (NCD) burden which is increasing at an alarming rate in India,” Dr Goel said at Healthy Talks on the topic “Save your Heart from unhealthy packaged foods,” initiated by IGPP platform.
He cited examples of countries like Chile which in 2012 adopted the warning label system of FOPL and have succeeded in reducing consumption of the unhealthiest ultra-processed foods and beverages while encouraging its population to eat healthy food. The country is already reaping benefits as NCD rate is on a declining spree.
The same model has been adopted by countries like Brazil, France and Israel while many are in the process of doing so to ensure their population is free from NCDs trap, informed Dr Goel in an interview with senior journalist Gaurav S Karrir.
On the other hand, India which has been dithering over the FOPL for the past several years is fast becoming home to several NCDs like obesity, stroke and cardiovascular diseases. In fact, warned Dr Goel, if preventive health steps are not taken in time, India by 2045 may become the Capital of childhood obesity and diabetes, both silent killers causing burden on the health system as well as loss to economic productivity.
Figure these: At least 1.44 million kids are suffering from childhood obesity while various studies say that consumption of high HFSS foods can result in a 10 per cent increase in obesity, diabetes and heart related diseases while there are chances of ten per cent increase in certain types of cancers.
Dr Goel minced no words as he squarely blamed the food industry for its ‘inertia’ in implementing the FOPL warnings and instead postponing the issue on one reason or the other at the cost of people’s health.
“The industry (food) knows that if it gives details on their products about harmful contents, people will become aware and will not consume such products.
“But India is a huge country with stakeholders having varied interests. Hence the government should not leave upon the food industry to follow the FOPL and instead make it compulsory,” Dr Goel added.
Supporting ‘Catch them young’ theory, he suggested that movement against HFSS should be launched at the school level itself among kids so that as an adult they know about the health hazards of HFSS and take informed decisions. “This will have long-term implications,” he pointed out. Dr Goel disapproved of the food Star Rating system being adopted by Australia and New Zealand saying that they misrepresents the healthiness of unhealthy products and increases the likelihood of misleading consumers into thinking ultra-processed products are healthy