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India has been witnessing a steadily growing burden of diabetes in the last few decades. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF), India, says that, with more than 77 million diabetics, the country now has the second highest number of people suffering from this chronic metabolic condition in the world. Highlighting the importance of taking action now, Dr Sanjeev Mishra, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Jodhpur, says, that by 2045, this number will double if prompt action is not taken. "At least 134 million Indians will have diabetes by 2045 and the well-being of our people will take a major hit. It cannot be ignored that the shift in the disease pattern since 1990 can be correlated with the increase in consumption of processed food. The rapid rise in diabetes across socio-economic categories and age groups has been fuelled by a massive alteration in the dietary habits of Indians. If we want to control the diabetes epidemic, we have to act now," he said at the national session of diabetes at AIIMS Jodhpur titled 'Addressing Diabetes Mellitus through Front of Package Labelling in India'.
Leading doctors from AIIMS have called for a systemic approach to manage the alarming rise in diabetes cases in the country. They stressed on the need to the right policy actions to establish science-based limits on salt, sugar and saturated fats in packaged and ultra-processed food and beverages. They said that this becomes all the more important following the devastating second wave of COVID-19, which hit diabetics hard. They reiterated the fact that diabetics are likely to have poorer treatment outcomes and are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19.
Doctors participating in this session said that a nutritious diet that either eliminates or caps the amount of sugar, salt and saturated fats intake, is the mainstay of diabetes management. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Madhukar Mittal, Addt. Professor, Dept. of Endocrinology and Metabolism, AIIMS, Jodhpur, said, "Sugar is the new cigarette. Lab studies have revealed that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. It increases insulin production which drives up fat storage causing damage to all organ systems."
Dr Madhukar also went on to say that consumption of added sugar in packaged and processed food has increased significantly in the past few decades and India's sugar consumption has grown at double the pace as compared with other markets in the world. This can be blamed on increased consumption of packaged foods and beverages, which have a high sugar load. "Since the choice of food is driven by markets and policies, we need to have strong policy measures in place that will enable consumers to make healthier choices," he says.
Many research-based studies say that, despite the need to promote and adopt healthy diets, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most multinational food companies promote unhealthy, ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks with no governmental limits on any of the harmful ingredients. "Strong regulations to cap salt, sugar and other ingredients of concern and simple to understand front of package labelling (FOPL) on the food are critical to help consumers and parents understand how much empty calories and harmful nutrients are being consumed by children," said Dr Pradeep Aggarwal, Associate Professor, Dept. of Community and Family Medicine, AIIMS, Rishikesh. He went on to say that food labels should provide clear guidance to consumers.
Labels on food packages help consumers make an informed decision when buying a product. They get to know the ingredients, specifically, sugar, sodium and saturated fat, that the food contains. This way, they can avoid buying or reduce their consumption of unhealthy packaged food. As of now, 11 countries have made FOPL mandatory. In 2018, the Food Safety Standards Authority India (FSSAI) published a draft regulation for FOPL. But it was subsequently withdrawn for further deliberation and, in 2019 December, FSSAI delinked FOPL from general labelling regulations. However, the process was again started in December 2020 it restarted but it hasn't been made mandatory yet.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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