While on the one hand, India scores pretty high on malnutrition, undernourishment and the hunger statistics, it also faces the rising problem of diseases like obesity and diabetes. It is reported that by 2020, India would have the second-highest number of childhood obesity patients, surpassing the US. Obesity and diabetes aren’t just a cause for personal concern, it puts pressure on the healthcare system of the country. They have responded by drafting a junk food mandate for schools.
The growing popularity of junk food in India
Junk food, the harbinger of the new-age diseases, can be considered the most favoured tool of a consumer-driven economy. The most important reason for the boost in sales and growth of fast-food in India is the favourable demographics. More than 33% of the Indian population is below 15 years and 50% of the population is below 24 years. By 2022, India foresees close to 135 million working-age individuals. The fast-food market is growing at a rate of 18% CAGR and is expected to reach 77 billion transactions by 2022.
What Is JUNCS?
In a bid to define the junk food segment better, a study published by the IAP (Indian Academy of Paediatrics) aims to bring in new terminology that better qualifies as the category definer for unhealthy food – JUNCS, standing for:
- Junk foods are loaded with fats, especially trans-fats and saturated fats and salts and sugars. They lack micronutrients or minerals.
- Ultra-processed foods
- Nutritionally inappropriate. Even home-cooked foods can be nutritionally inappropriate if cooked in recycled oil or contain a high amount of fat, sugar, or salt.
- Caffeinated/ carbonated coloured/beverages
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
Here are the alarming numbers stated in a survey by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The survey was conducted among 13,274 children aged between 9-14 years. According to the survey:
- 93% of the participants ate packaged food
- 68% consumed packaged beverages loaded with sugar more than once a week
- 53% ate these products daily
- Around one-fourth of the children participated in the survey consumed ultra-processed food high in fat, sugar or salt such as pizza and burger bought from fast food outlets, more than once a week
FSSAI’s Junk Food Regulations – Highlights
To curb these problems at the root level, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has resorted to placing rules and guidelines on schools to indulge children in healthy eating. The most important takeaways from the draft regulations are as follows:
- A ban on sale as well as advertisement and endorsement of junk foods allowed in schools, colleges and or public places, including sports arenas.
- Any caterer or company selling meals in schools will be registered as a Food Business Operator or FBO. They cannot advertise or offer HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) foods for free within 50 meters of the campus or on the premises.
- Schools shall be responsible to curb the sale of junk foods within the premises. Schools must have regular inspections on the premises to ensure adherence to guidelines.
- Schools may appoint health and wellness coordinators and engage with nutritionists and diet specialists to assist in meal prep.
- The State Food Authority will provide guidance on turning education centres to ‘Eat Right Campus’, focusing on healthy and mindful eating.
- The State Food Authority will also conduct inspections and surveillance to ensure compliance with the Act.
Regulating diets starts at home. Interestingly, the study published by the IAP also acknowledges that rising family nucleation combined with online delivery or digitisation channels are also a notable cause for decreasing health in children. As the age-old saying goes, a healthy body ensures a healthy mind. Making our children take baby steps towards treasuring health is philosophically endearing as it is necessary.