Take junk food out of schools, say participants at a CSE Round Table

Round Table organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) brings together top doctors, educationists and civil society representatives

New Delhi, November 1, 2011: The Rs 8000-crore junk food industry in India is fuelling a host of health disorders such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension amongst urban adolescents -- one of the facts which came out of a the Round Table meeting organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here today.

The meeting brought together a mix of doctors, nutritionists, NGOs, policy makers, teachers and students to discuss the health impacts of junk food, especially amongst children. The Round Table was chaired by Sunita Narain, director general, CSE; former secretary of health, K Chandramouli, was the chief guest.

What is junk food?
Most junk food falls into the categories of either ‘snack food’ or ‘fast food’. Burgers, French fries, pizzas, colas and energy drinks are some of the other more popular Western junk food. Samosas, kachoris, bread pakodas, packaged bhujia, Maggi noodles, momos, tikkis and bhaturas top the list of Indian junk food.

“Ironically, though some food may be prepared with healthy ingredients like vegetables, they are still ‘junk’. The burger, for example, contains meat and vegetables; the ‘junk’ in it comes from the refined flour that is used to make the buns, and the mayonnaise and butter that are added to the filling,” says Savvy Soumya Misra, deputy programme manager of CSE’s Food Safety and Toxins team.

Health impacts
Since junk food is high in fat and sugar, it is responsible for obesity. Obesity leads to a number of health problems, ranging from diabetes to cardiac diseases, and from hypertension to gall bladder disorders and depression.

A study conducted among urban Indian adolescents by The National Diabetes Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation showed that the one out of every five adults was obese. “Cases of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometrial cancer in young women have increased, mainly due to westernized lifestyle and changing food habits,” says Sonia Naik, gynaecologist, Sitaram Bhartia Hospital, one of the participants at the Round Table.

Diabetes has acquired epidemic proportions -- nearly 51 million Indians suffer from diabetes and it is estimated that 87 million will suffer from diabetes by 2025, according to a report published by the Public Health Foundation of India in September 2011.

The way forward
“Junk food needs to be replaced by nutritious food,” stressed Sunita Narain. “Junk food should be banned in schools, as the first step to push the school authorities towards healthier and more nutritious options.”

The group came to a conclusion that parents need to be educated on the ‘nutritious’ quality of junk food and should have enough ‘fast’ options for healthy food. Junk food should be taxed and that money should be used to promote nutritious food, advertisement for junk feel should be banned during children shows, cartoon shows etc. were the other recommendations that the group agreed to.