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‘Warning labels’ on packaged food is people’s choice: AIIMS study

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Administered to a varied demographic across 15 states, this study was designed and led by AIIMS Rishikesh along with its counterparts in various locations

AIIMS, has conducted a study to determine what type of labelling system would be most effective for Indians. According to the study unveiled at a pan-Indian gathering of top medical experts, when respondents were asked to choose among various Front-of-pack warning labels (FOPL) designs such as the multicoloured traffic light system or the star rating system, ‘high-in style’ warning labels emerged the clear winner. 

An FOPL is regarded as the most effective policy solution which can inform consumers in an easy-to-understand manner about high levels of sugar, sodium and saturated fat that may be present and discourage the purchase of unhealthy packaged food. The ‘KAP study on FOPL in India’ reveals that people are ready to make healthier food choices and find simple ‘warning labels’ as easy to read and understand. Stressing on the need to choose correctly and scientifically.

Dr Umesh Kapil, President of the Epidemiological Foundation of India said, “Research shows that labels which only highlight nutrients of concern, ie, warning labels, work best to safeguard public health. It is heartening to note that Indians have almost unanimously voted ‘high-in warning labels for salt, sugar, fats’ as the easiest to understand. Front of Pack Warning Labels (FOPWL) can result in immediate public health benefits – all the more reason why India, which accounts for 25 per cent of the global burden of heart disease, cannot afford not to get it right the first time.”

Dr Sanjay Rai, Professor, Community Medicine, AIIMS Delhi and President of the IPHA said, “People are ready to shift to healthier decisions regarding purchase of packaged and processed food and this perception study has shown that warning labels have the widest appeal. We are witnessing a worldwide tipping effect of diet related NCDs. A momentous shift is required and if done in a scientific, evidence-based manner, FOPL can bring about this change swiftly. No time must be lost as millions of lives are at risk. This study by India’s top doctors is an important step. I hope it can positively inform the policy process that has already been initiated by FSSAI and we can take decisive steps in the right direction while adopting an FOPL that is best for India.”

Vandana Shah, Regional Director, Global Health Advocacy Incubator said, “Front-of-pack warning labels (FOPWL) help consumers quickly identify products with high contents of unhealthy nutrients and encourages industry to reformulate. Studies coming in from Chile which was one of the first countries to implement simple warning labels on packaged foods, are already showing a significant reduction in consumption of sugar and salt consumption leading to industry taking steps to make their products healthier based on consumer shifts.  All this has resulted in no economic or job losses for the food industry creating a win-win situation for public health and industry.”

More than 5.8 million Indians die every year from Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. By 2024, the diabetic population of the country is estimated to hit almost 70 million and India is already emerging as the obesity capital of the world. 

Administered to a varied demographic across 15 states, this study was designed and led by AIIMS Rishikesh along with its counterparts in various locations.

Speaking about the objective and methodology, Dr Pradeep Agarwal, AIIMS Rishikesh said, “As doctors we are witnessing the debilitating impact caused by excessive consumption of foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fats, on the health of this country, particularly on our youth and children. This observational survey has ascertained which type of label people find easiest to read and most helpful in guiding their purchase decisions. We also found that 93 per cent Indians concur that simple front-of-pack label on all food and beverage is a necessity.”


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