The world took on cigarette smoking and tobacco consumption with a vengeance. And rightly so – as we all know, the consumption of tobacco is linked to a number of serious diseases. The attack on tobacco became so intense and sustained that the consumption of tobacco began being viewed as a despicable habit. The result is that, in most parts of the world, tobacco consumers indulge in their habit sheepishly and furtively (except, of course, the gutka chewers who have no qualms about spitting wherever they want). And the consumption of tobacco is on the decline, albeit slowly.
But no such sustained attack has been mounted on unhealthy foods, the so called junk food that we and our children consume in humongous amounts. The list is long – the food that most fast food joints serve, the trans-fat laden cookies, the sugary sodas and so on. In fact, companies involved with junk food are some of the most respected companies.
India is seeing an increase in the consumption of junk food. I mean, we have had our own samosas, tikkis and other unhealthy street foods but these have been supplemented with hamburgers, cookies and sodas. As nations develop, people cook less at home and start eating out or get a lot of packaged goods home to consume. This is especially true for households where both partners work. To save time and costs, most of the food consumed outside end up being fast food items like hamburgers and pizzas.
As tobacco, junk food is a huge contributor to various ailments including diabetes, high blood pressure and even strokes. What is quite scary is that the eating of unhealthy foods is on the rise amongst kids. More worryingly:
- Kids are privy to ads for unhealthy foods on a regular basis. Most of the food ads that kids view are for products that are high in fat, sugar or sodium.
- In the U.S., nearly 40% of children’s diets come from added sugars and unhealthy fats.
- A study conducted by Prevention Institute in 2007, found that over half of the most aggressively marketed children’s foods advertising fruit on the packaging actually contain no fruit ingredients whatsoever. In 2011, a second study by researchers at Prevention Institute looked at packages with front of package labelling – symbols that identify healthier products – and found that 84% of products studied didn’t meet basic nutritional standards.
- Food and beverage companies continue to spend billions of dollars promoting unhealthy foods virtually everywhere kids go.
Thankfully, the fight against unhealthy foods is on the rise and one hopes that it becomes a movement akin to the one that grew against tobacco. Anna Lappe is one vocal proponent against the billion-dollar business of marketing junk food, soda, and fast food to children and teens. And that is because not only are diet-related illnesses on the rise but that the marketing of junk food is increasing as well.
The food industry’s defence is that parents have to ensure that they raise healthy kids. Frankly, I agree with them. I am also not someone who likes the idea of bans or curtailing the freedom of consumers to choose what they want to consume. I also have absolutely nothing against executives who work in companies marketing junk food; truth be told, I have worked in a company marketing tobacco products.
The really sad part is that many junk food companies deliberately target kids. That is something that needs to be curtailed somehow.
You should see Lappe’s excellent talk against junk food companies here.
Sources: Wikipedia; preventioninsitute.org
Visual courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mgrenner57/