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CSE campaign to shun junk food in schools
Narendra Ch | 14 Oct 2012

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in association with a few other organizations and the event management group Seven Miles, organized a Quarterathon to 'junk the junk food. CSE has been campaigning to make people aware of what junk food does to our health, and keep it out of school canteens. The run is expected to give a thrust to this campaign.

RCENT STUDIES indicate that the incidence of juvenile diabetes is on the rise in Indian metros, around 20 per cent of school-going children in India are overweight and Indians are among the world's most depressed. According to experts, the Rs 8000-crore junk food industry in India is largely responsible for the increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases and will play a significant role in killing two-thirds of Indians by 2030.

Seductively packaged, slickly marketed and promoted aggressively during children’s shows and on cartoon networks in a bid to ‘catch ’em young’, junk food is directly linked to depression, lower IQ among children, obesity, the early onset of diabetes and heart diseases, and a host of other pathological conditions.

And the realization how bad junk food can be is sinking in, as was apparent from the numbers that thronged the Delhi Quarterathon, a run for ‘junking junk food’ organized by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here today. Film actor Rahul Bose, politician Sandeep Dikshit, and a host of students, their teachers and parents participated in the event.

Contemporary dance guru Shiamak Davar, who supported the run and the cause behind it, said: “The initiative taken by CSE is very close to my work with dance education. The idea is to inculcate healthy and positive behavior amongst school students. The Quarterathon is such an exciting way to create awareness on the endeavour and I extend my support to the organization that ensures passing on the right message to the youth.”

Junk food and the CSE study

Most junk food falls into the categories of either ‘snack food’ or ‘fast food’. Burgers, french fries, pizzas, colas and energy drinks are some of the more popular Western junk food. Samosas, kachoris, bread pakodas, packaged bhujia, instant noodles, momos, tikkis and bhaturas top the list of Indian junk food.

In March 2012, CSE had tested 16 major brands of junk foods, and found most of them loaded with high levels of trans fats, salts and sugar. While excess salts and sugar are a cause for concern, the real terror is in the trans fats. The WHO says that in a balanced diet, a maximum of 1 per cent of total energy should come from trans fats. Therefore, an adult male can have 2.6 gram of trans fats per day, while an adult female can have 2.1 gram and a child (10-12 years) can have 2.3 gram.

CSE’s tests revealed a dirty truth of misinformation, misbranding, wrong labelling and obfuscation indulged in by companies, some of whom are on the top of the charts. They show that many junk foods claim they have ‘0’ trans fats; some don’t even bother to mention how much trans fats they have. A child who eats one of those immensely savoury MacDonald’s Happy Meals finishes up 90 per cent of all his daily requirement of trans fats. The packet of Happy Meal makes absolutely no mention of this massive dosage of trans fats!

CSE researchers say that the heavy doses of trans fats, joined with that of salt – which comes from all the so called ‘fun foods’ -- work together to trigger ill health which can lead to death. Trans fats are notorious for clogging arteries: they deposit on the walls of the arteries and make them narrower. On top of that, when one has large amounts of salt, the blood pressure increases. The heart has to work overtime to push the blood around, which weakens it considerably.

There is enough global evidence to suggest that more and more young people are succumbing to problems of the heart at a much earlier age. At an age when they should have been at their productive best, they are losing productive life by eating this junk.

‘Junk’ junk food

CSE has taken a strong stand against all that is junk in food. Said Sunita Narain, CSE director general and one of the participants in the Quarterathon: “Junk food should be banned in schools, as the first step to push school authorities towards healthier and more nutritious options for our children.” Which is why Narain and her colleagues made a special effort to involve schools and their students in this initiative.