Study reveals poor and vulnerable that were battling hunger now have more access to unhealthy ultra-processed food

A recent study has revealed that India’s marginalised and
economically weak are consuming high quantities of ultra-processed and packaged
food. In a country that faces one of the world’s gravest double burden of
malnutrition, the lowest income quintile has gone from facing hunger to relying
on unhealthy snacks. This finding reinforces the concern that sub-optimal or
poor nutrition is escalating diet related non communicable diseases (DR-NCDs)
in India, putting at risk millions, particularly children across all
socio-economic categories. Releasing the study on 20 March, 2023 at the
Constitution Club of India, New Delhi in the MPs Round-table:
  Children Nutrition and Ultra-Processed food
organized by Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and PIPAL,
senior Members of Parliament and civil society representatives, called for
urgent policy measures to make healthier foods available in the market and
introduce clear warnings on packaged food to guide people’s choices.

India is home to around 45 million children who are stunted
and 15 million who are obese. It is also the epicentre of adult obesity,
diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. With 65% deaths every year due to NCDs,
India is on the brink of a diet linked health catastrophe. Poor nutrition, as a
result of growing consumption of ultra-processed foods containing high levels
of sugar, sodium, saturated fats, is considered by experts as a key risk

Speaking at the event, Shri Ashok Bajpai, senior Rajya Sabha
MP from BJP said, “Ultra-processed foods and drinks are relatively cheap and
ready-to-eat which saves cost and time for daily wage earners. This important
study has revealed that Dalit families or those from backward classes who have
a meagre income, are relying more and more on these easy to purchase food
items, without realising the negative impact it has on their health. We, as
representatives of the people, can play an important role in ensuring that
packaged food available in the market is healthy and contains safe limits of
negative nutrients.”


PIPAL (People’s Initiative for Participatory Action on Food Labeling) – a national grassroots initiative for a healthier food system, conducted this survey in two districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – Varanasi and Gaya. More than 90% of respondents who were queried on their consumption of ultra-processed and packaged food, have a daily earning of Rs 400 or less and about 40 % are from the Dalit (Musahar) community. Majority of those surveyed are not literate. The survey found that Dalit families are spending 94% of their income on food and about 10-15% of that expenditure is towards ultra-processed and packaged foods such as chocolates, carbonated drinks, jellies, biscuits, and chips. Compared to this, their spending on healthcare and education is a meagre 1.3% and 0.5%. Findings also point to the fact that families with lower on no literacy were likely to spend more on packaged food.

Releasing the survey, founder and CEO of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and one of the authors, Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi, said, “Adverse impact of ultra-processed food and beverages is even more pronounced on children who are stunted or have received inadequate nutrition early in their life. They are more susceptible to obesity and may have a higher risk of NCDs as adults. For a country that bears the double burden of malnutrition, the best policy solution to ensure a healthier tomorrow for our children would be to make clear warnings regarding high content of sugar, sodium and saturated fat, mandatory on the front of all packaged food. It would convey to the vulnerable and poor, about the health harms of the packaged food and influence their purchasing decisions. It will also hopefully motivate the highly profitable and fast-growing food industry to make their products healthier.”

India is one of the global leaders in the food and beverage industry with a sales volume of 34 million tons. As per forecasts of the Euromonitor data, India was set to emerge as the third largest market for packaged food in the world by 2020, after China and the United States.

 Shri B P Saroj, Member of Parliament, BJP from Machhlisahar, observed that, “In Uttar Pradesh, especially in Varanasi, ready to eat or ready to heat ultra-processed food, is fast becoming the food of choice for the migrant workforce who neither have time nor resource for cooked meals.” A member of the Consultative Committee, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Shri Saroj further stated that, “It is the right time for a policy instrument that can empower people to make healthier choices and save lives. Evidence from across the world and India has shown that a simple front-of-pack label that warns people about unhealthy ingredients will have the most impact. We provide our support to FSSAI and eagerly await an FOPL regulation that is good for the people of this country. It is the need of the hour.”

Shri Imran Pratapgarhi, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, ”
A member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, Ensured to extend
his all support for bringing the warning label for the betterment of Women and
Child health.

 With the debilitating impact of poor diets more than ever in
focus, PVCHR and PIPAL hosted this consultation in the capital, timing it with
the ongoing Parliament Session. Present at the deliberation were senior MPs,
Shri Suhsil Kumar Singh representing Aurangabad constituency, Shri Sakal Deep
Rajbhar, Member of Parliament –Rajya Sabha Ms. Sanghmitra Maurya representing
Badaun constituency and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health,
Shri Ashok Thakur, Director, NAFED, Shri Pakauri Lal Kol representing
Robertsganj constituency and Ms. Netta D’Souza, Chairperson All India Mahila
Congress , Shri Kamal
  Kishor Commando
former MP,
  Rajesh Pratap Singh,
ex-assistant director-Home Ministry, Dr. O P Vyas-Ex- joint registrar, NHRC and
renowned members of the civil society, Ms Shruti Nagvanshi, Pandit Vikash
Maharaj, famous sarod maestro,Shri Varun Pathak, Chairman , Bench of
Magistrates Child Welfare committee
and  famous pediatrician Dr. Arun


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