Bad food

Published: Thursday 15 May 2008

there are those in India who don't get food. There are those that do. Then there are those that only get bad food. The cheapest available, but bad. It is this group which is bearing the brunt of increasing obesity and chronic diseases in the world. The experience of the African American community, living in poor areas and surviving on cheap fast food, is now global.

To reverse this trend, the World Health Organization (who) proposed a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health in 2004. Four years on, nothing much has happened; who got a new director general and other priorities, like tackling pandemic flu. In dutiful response, the food industry tweaked its menus, shifting to rice bran oil, palm oil or artificial sweeteners to meet the requirement of removing transfats or reducing calories in products. But this didn't make the food healthy, for these ingredients have their own set of adverse health effects. Some fast food companies provided packed salads and cut fruits, but only in developed countries.

Some good could have happened, but for the aggressive marketing companies employ to spread to new markets. Jalandhar is now McDonald's India's best performing area. They boast of farmers trundling in in tractors to feed on burgers; it seems the menu is tweaked to suit rural palates. Punjabis in the uk are genetically predisposed to chronic diseases; is it not likely Jalandharis in their home state would be, too?

Industry will not stop marketing, or lobbying to avoid stringent legislation. But surely politicians can do their job? Putting appropriate taxes on 'bad' food is a good option. Studies show industry does not lose money when this happens. For instance, Mexico's guidelines to tax the fat in milk, to promote skimmed milk, is commendable. So are the uk's efforts to control aggressive marketing by food industry targeted towards children.

Such are measures India, with a billion plus population genetically predisposed to a variety of chronic diseases, needs to adopt. The national guidelines issued two years ago, are gathering dust. It is time these are further strengthened. For, how much fun can it be to be poor and diabetic?

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