- India’s ultra-processed food sector grew at a compound annual growth rate of 13.37 per cent in retail sales value from 2011 to 2021, a report by the World Health Organization with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations found.
What is ultra-processed food?
- The British Heart Foundation defines ultra-processed food as those with a long shelf life and generally have five or more ingredients, including but not limited to preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners and artificial colours and flavours.
- They are a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases early in life, as documented by several researchers.
- The Indian ultra-processed food sector’s annual growth rate declined sharply when the pandemic first struck, dropping from 12.65 per cent in 2019 to 5.50 per cent in 2020, the report showed.
- Chocolate and sugar confectionery, salty snacks, beverages, ready-made and convenient foods and breakfast cereals were identified as the five popular categories of ultra-processed foods.
- However, a significant rebound in sales occurred the following year when an 11.29 per cent growth was observed during 2020-2021.
- The upward trend needs to be curtailed with policy interventions to prevent an obesity epidemic in India similar to what some western countries are experiencing.
- The report made recommendations to help India attain nutritional security and meet the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in consultation with other stakeholders, should come up with a clear and transparent definition of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) food.
- The GST Council needs to link their tax structure with the HFSS food definitions. A nutrient-based tax model focuses on higher taxes for products which have fat, sugar, and salt beyond the recommended levels and lower taxes for the healthier and reformulated options.
- India’s policies and programmes such as Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 do not adequately cover the issue of overnutrition and unhealthy diet-related diseases.
- After consultation with all the stakeholders and taking their views and concerns into account, there is a need to strengthen the existing policies and move towards a comprehensive national nutrition policy which covers the dual problems of under- and over-nutrition and clearly specifies the objectives, goals and targets.
- Low intake of whole grains was the leading dietary risk factor for the increased prevalence of NCD-induced deaths, mostly cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, in India, according to the Global Burden of Disease study in 2019.