India’s food regulator has released a draft notification making it mandatory for packaged foods to carry a star rating – just like energy efficiency ratings on electronic goods – to discourage people from consuming foods high in sugar, salt and fat.
The decision to include a label on the front of the package for nutrients in packaged foods comes against the backdrop of an increase in the incidence of non-communicable diseases.
What is the label on the front of the package and why do we need it?
Any label on the front of the package is meant to be a graphic or symbol that can provide simplified nutritional information to consumers, helping them make quick decisions about which foods to buy. The goal of these labels is to help consumers make an informed decision, even if they choose to buy high-calorie chips or drinks.
Experts say such labels can, in fact, help reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. A position paper prepared by organizations such as the Public Health Foundation of India, the Center for Science and Environment and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics earlier this year found how Chile saw a 24 percent drop in consumption of sugary drinks with a warning label.
“Although it is essential that food packages carry the nutritional content, it is printed in such a small font on the back of the package that most people do not read it. It is unlikely that this will be done,” said Dr. Yujal Kishore, Head of Community Medicine at Safdarjung Hospital. Discard the label on the front of the package.
Preventing or reducing the consumption of foods rich in salt, sugars and fats can help check the growing burden of non-communicable diseases in the country, with about 60 percent of all deaths in the country attributable to this.
“Parents would be less likely to give their children maggi and potato chips if they saw a red warning label on the package. Nowadays, childhood obesity is a major concern for us as it leads to the early onset of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks,” said Dr. Sunila Garg, professor of community medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College and advisor to FOPL groups at AIIMS and the National Academy of Medical Sciences.
What are the different types of package labels?
There are several ways in which nutritional information can be provided on the front of the package:
Daily Intake Guide – A panel showing the daily recommended percentage of nutrients in one serving of a prepackaged food.
Nutrition Information Panel – A panel that shows the amount of each of the major nutrients in the food.
Traffic Light Card – A board that not only shows how much fat, salt, sugar and other nutrients are in a serving of a packaged food but also colors it red, orange or green based on how healthy it is.
Warning Label – A written or colored label indicating whether the amount of salt, sugar and fat is high, without providing any details of the amounts in the food.
Star Rating – A label that provides one to five stars based on how authentic the product is, with five stars being the healthiest. Does not provide fragmentation of nutrients.
What did the FSSAI recommend in the draft notification?
The country’s food regulator – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – has proposed a star rating system called the ‘Indian Nutrition Rating (INR)’ where unhealthy foods will have a 0-star rating and the healthiest will have a five-star rating, according to the draft notification. that were recently released.
According to the draft notification, items will be awarded scores based on the contribution of energy, saturated fat content, sugars and sodium, fruits and vegetables (FV), nuts, legumes, millet (NLM), dietary fiber and protein in 100g of solid foods or 100ml of liquid foods. Solid foods with a score greater than 25 will be awarded 0.5 stars, while foods with a score less than -11 will be awarded five stars. The notice said that liquid foods with a score greater than 20 equal 0.5 stars while those that scored zero equaled five stars.
The INR ranks the overall nutritional profile of a packaged food by giving it a rating from ½ star (the least healthy) to five stars (the healthiest). More stars indicate that a food product is better positioned to provide a person’s daily nutritional needs. Logo should be displayed near the name or brand name of the product on the front of the package,” as stated in the notice.
Besides the star, brands may also choose to display the amounts of different nutrients present. However, it is not mandatory, according to the notification.
What do the experts say?
Several experts said that a colored warning label would likely work best in countries like India with limited literacy. They say star ratings can be confusing, as people think that even a one-star product can be as good because it has a star.
Dr. Garg said: “We need some kind of label that can tell people right away that food is unhealthy even without reading anything. Traffic light for various ingredients can achieve that. People will try to look for products with more green labels.”
She added, “With a star rating, it doesn’t provide the real picture. What is healthy? Should we consider a 3-star hotel healthy? If so, food that is high in fruits and vegetables or protein but high in sugars.” It will also get an average rating and it will be acceptable.”
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