Packaged foods and beverages should have clear mandatory Front of Pack warning labels (FoPL) to help consumers make healthy and safe decisions, said lawmakers and experts at a roundtable at the Constitution Club of India while expressing concern on how rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes have overburdened the country's health system.

Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha MP, Sushil Modi, called for a stringent health warning on the unhealthy packaged foods specifying that it has HFSS (High in Fat, Sugar and Salt) content. "The warnings should be on the lines of those on the cigarette packets that "smoking is injurious to health," he said.

Participating in a first-of-its-kind roundtable discussion on "FoPL, impact of packaged foods on health" organised by the Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics, he said: "this would help people make safer choices."

Another Rajya Sabha MP, who also served as Director and Commandant of the Armed Forces Medical College, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Dr DP Vats said that the sedimentary lifestyle and increased consumption of packed food is presenting an imminent threat to the nation's health and economy. He emphasised that this has led to increasing diabetes among the people.

The MPs meet comes at a time when FSSAI, the regulatory body for packaged food quality in India, is deliberating on the adoption of the FoPL for the packaged food and beverage industry which in the absence of adequate guidelines has been rampantly dishing out packaged foods high in fat, salt and sugar, resulting in increasing NCD cases. The FSSAI has been deliberating on this issue since 2013 but is yet to frame a policy for a strong FoPL, the experts pointed out.

According to the Global Nutrition Report, 2021 released last month, as many as 12 million people died prematurely in 2018 due to risks linked to an imbalanced and unhealthy diet. These risks included non-communicable diseases.

Dr Naval K Vikram, diabetologist and professor in the department of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, talked about the strategic role the FoPL can play in helping bring down the NCDs.

"This would avert an impending NCD crisis such as diabetes, heart disease and various forms of cancer, mainly caused by consumption of processed and packaged foods high in salt, sugar and fats. Warning labels would guide people to make healthier choices and even bring down their consumption of these unhealthy foods", he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 58 lakh Indians die every year due to preventive NCDs. The WHO too has favoured the FoPL saying it works best when it is made mandatory and applies to all packaged products, the label is interpretative, simplistic and readily visible, guided by a strong nutrient profile model.

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