Studies have shown that 75-80 percent of severely obese children will remain obese as adults and be at heightened risk of various NCDs, according to an expert
Obesity is a result of imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended, according to Dr Rekha Harish, Chairperson, Indian Academy of Paediatrics, NCD Prevention.
Sharing her views at a session on childhood obesity in India, she said, “Usually, an increased consumption of unhealthy or processed food coupled with physical inactivity leads to this preventable condition. It is fast emerging as the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Studies have shown that 75-80 percent of severely obese children will remain obese as adults and be at heightened risk of various NCDs. At least 15 percent children in India are obese or overweight and these numbers will steadily rise, if left unchecked. We need a strong policy regulating harmful ingredients in ultra-processed and packaged foods, including food labels, that can help parents make an informed choice.”
The health experts at the session highlighted the need for an urgent policy action to establish strong limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats and other harmful ingredients in packaged and ultra-processed food and beverages. The experts from AIIMS, Rishikesh; Indian Academy of Paediatrics and Indian Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences said that the only way to control this growing epidemic of obesity is by establishing scientific cut-off limits for harmful ingredients and front of pack labels (FOPL) on packaged products which can educate the public and help consumers make informed and correct choices.
Dr Umesh Kapil, Professor – Clinical Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Biliary Sciences (ILBS) said that India needs to establish clear cut offs for salt, sugar and saturated fats. “There is enough scientific evidence and a globally-agreed WHO SEARO framework for evidence-based cut-offs for anti-nutrients like sugar, salt and saturated fat present in packaged food. The Government of India should rapidly adopt these WHO-recommended limits and also introduce simple, smart and interpretative FOPL. Food labels should provide clear guidance, for example, black octagons adopted in Chile that say upfront whether or not foods contain excess of fats or sugars. Simple-to-understand labels with evidence-based nutrition cut off is a need of the hour and will go a long way to address the crisis of childhood obesity in the country.”
Drawing attention to clinical evidence that clearly correlates consumption of ultra-processed food to a number of serious health conditions, Dr Manoj Kumar Gupta – Dean, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, said, “Children are particularly at risk. As doctors, we want to assert that the onus should not be on children or their families alone to prevent or fight this condition. It is the collective duty of policymakers, the food industry and us, as doctors, to safeguard children and enable a nutritious food system for them.”
Dr Ravi Kant, Director and CEO, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh, emphasised on the importance of ensuring a healthy and nutritious food environment for children. In line with this, he said, “As doctors, we are concerned with this rising trend. Childhood obesity has several long-term impacts, some of which are irreversible. We need to set evidence-based limits on the high concentration of salt, sugar and fats in packaged foods so families have clear guidance when buying these products.”