No more junk food in Indian schools!

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No more junk food in Indian schools!

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara


Junk food on sale in India. (Abhisek Sarda under a Creative Commons Licence)

This is great news for school food in India! India’s middle-class urban kids are more obese than ever. This is worrying, because there has been a lot of diabetes in Indian adults in the last few decades. This obesity is probably from a change in diet and a big move to not being active – kids in the city sit and play on computers after school.

The Delhi High Court has said that junk food – high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – must be restricted in schools and 50-metres around schools. Educationists are very happy – they have worked for a long time for this. This will cut crisps, chips, fried foods, sugary carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, ready noodles, pizzas, burgers, French fries and a lot of sweets.

The Court has told the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI - a government body that controls food standards) to make rules to restrict these in 3 months. Also, the court has asked the FSSAI to help school canteens to make sure school meals are healthy.

They must also control advertising to children from junk-food companies. Maybe this will stop celebrities advertising junk food - so film stars and cricket players will not be able to sell Coca-Cola or Pepsi on TV. The FSSAI must also make food labels give more information and bring in limits on unhealthy ingredients (eg. only 5 % of transfats). Schools must get students to do games, yoga and physical activity.

The Court’s decision is because the Uday Foundation (from Delhi) filed a public litigation in December 2010. The Court listened to a group of experts - nutritionists and paediatricians, including environmentalist Sunita Narain (founder of the Centre for Science and Environment).

Fighting against them was the National Restaurants Association of India, All India Food Processors Association and Retailers Association of India (including Coca-Cola India and Nestlé). Today, newspapers report that Nestlé have stopped selling their Maggi noodles – that most middle-class Indian families love - because they have very high, unsafe levels of lead and monosodium glutamate. There are many TV adverts showing ‘cool’ Indian mothers cooking instant noodles for their ‘cool’ kids. Normal Indian food – rice, dal and chappatis – is not cool, it's boring and only for people outside the cities.

No-one in the law thought it was strange that McDonalds, Dominos, PepsiCo, Cadbury India (now Mondelez India), Dabur and Parle Agro were all represented in the groups advising the law how to get Indian children not to eat junk food. But Dr Arun Gupta (paediatrician-activist of International Baby Food Action Network - IBFAN), said ‘It is wrong to allow industry to advise on public-health policies (particularly policies affecting children), because the industries only exist to make money.’

The Delhi High Court decision is not good for junk-food companies. They see developing countries like India as big new markets. Many countries are fighting against and cutting sweet drinks all across the world. For example, Mexico started a sugar and junk-food tax in January 2014; and Berkeley in the US voted in November 2014 to tax drinks with sugar in. Now for the first time in history, the youngest generation of US kids will have a shorter life than their parents. Indian groups (including the India Resource Centre, IBFAN Asia, the Uday Foundation and the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest) will be fighting against the the food industry trying to change public policy. Good luck to them!

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).