India’s Obesity Problem Is So Huge, Officials Want to Ban Junk-Food Sales to Students
There’s a small corner store right across the street from my seventh-grade son’s 1,800-student middle school in Los Angeles. Fresh fruits and other healthy snacks are not for sale. Before and after school, the shop is packed with tweens and teens eagerly buying soda and other sugary drinks, burgers, fries, milk shakes, candy, ramen noodles, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and Takis—typical high-fat, high-calorie, and high-sugar items are what’s available for purchase.
The same sort of processed food-peddling outlet is often located in the vicinity of schools across the world. And given concerns over obesity in children, officials in India have had enough. On Friday, a committee from the Ministry of Women and Child Development recommended that vendors be banned from selling junk food to children within a 200-meter radius of school—a distance roughly the equivalent of two football fields back-to-back.
“The members of the Committee have expressed concern about the increasing incidence of obesity in children and the related physiological issues including diabetes, hypertension etc.,” said a statement. “They have also given details of consequences of increasing psychological/behavioural dysfunctionalities in children including binge-eating, body dis-satisfaction, low self-esteem etc.”
Such concerns are well founded. Traditionally, being overweight in India was seen as a sign that your family was prosperous. But as the country’s economy has boomed, consumers have developed a taste for Western-style fast food. In July, a 225-year-old traditional sweet shop in Delhi was forced to close its doors as the taste for chocolate outstrips the demand for time-honored treats. As a result, the South Asian nation’s obesity rate has soared. A study published last year in the medical journal Lancet revealed that one in five Indians is obese, and as many as 60 percent of people who live in India’s cities are estimated to be obese.
The committee recommended that the shops be prohibited from selling unhealthy items to kids who are wearing uniforms—it’s easy to identify pupils in India, because nearly all primary and secondary institutions require students to wear school-specific ensembles. The prohibition would include brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants as well as food carts that can be pushed from place to place.
Of course, there are plenty of hurdles to getting the recommendation turned into official policy. One of the biggest, according to the committee, is that the Indian government has yet to officially decide what items constitute junk food. I bet a visit to the shop across the street from my son’s school could help them figure that out.