It is well known that India is the diabetes capital of the world but we have not seen any government at the centre clamp down on aerated drinks, which worldwide are known to have a high amount of sugar and are detrimental to health and a cause of lifestyle diseases. However, a reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals that since 2003 aerated drinks are banned in all canteens of Parliament, obviously to protect the health of our members of Parliament (MPs).
In an order dated 6 August 2003, E Ahamed, then Chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Food Management, says, “It is hereby ordered that supply of all soft drinks like Pepsi-cola, Coca-cola, Limca, Mirinda, Orange, 7-up, Fanta, Sprite, Thums Up, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Blue Pepsi etc. and all other brands of drinks of this nature shall be discontinued in the catering centres and canteens within the Parliament House Complex with immediate effect.”
“Agencies of these soft drinks be informed to remove their display refrigerator, advertisement material, if any, from the Parliament House immediately,” the order adds.
Noted RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal had filed the RTI application to Northern Railways, which is the catering agency for Parliament. He says, “If such a ban is imposed in Parliament House complex, then these drinks should be banned for general public also. After all, public health must not be considered less important than of Parliamentarians and others using Parliament canteens. It is significant that cola companies voluntarily stopped selling cola drinks in schools worldwide in view of increasing obesity in school-going children. It is surprising that the Indian government failed to notice such harmful effects of cola drinks and has allowed their sale to children.”
In a brochure released on 28 December 2016 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, titled `Healthy Children, Healthy India’, there is barely any mention that aerated drinks are bad for health. At the beginning of the brochure there is one bullet point which states, “Limit sugar, salt and aerated drinks”, and then under the title `Junk Food’ it is merely mentioned, “Junk food is calorie rich food containing high amount of fat, sugar, salt; regular intake of junk food results in obesity.” Check the brochure here
Since aerated drinks are banned in Parliament, one would think that the Health Ministry would spread the word even more eloquently and widely when it comes to children’s health; but no, it has chosen to be so mild that it amounts to criminal negligence.
Considering that 50 million Indians suffer from Type 2 diabetes, one would imagine the government would put aerated drinks as the highest risk for this disease and create large public awareness and ban them in schools and colleges. Instead, it is sitting smugly, ensuring that its MPs are taken care of.
People who consume sugary drinks regularly — 1 to 2 cans a day or more — have a 26% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
A study that followed 40,000 men for two decades found that those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack. A related study in women found a similar sugary beverage–heart disease link.
A study, spread over 22 years, of 80,000 women found that those who consumed a can a day of sugary drink had a 75% higher risk of gout. Researchers found a similar elevated risk in men.
Dr Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, recently made a strong case that there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption reduces the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases.
Mr Agrawal says, “The Government can at least ban advertisements of cola drinks. It is senseless to exempt cola drinks from printing their ingredients on bottles in the name of trade secret when every packaged food commodity has to do so. Earlier, too, soft drink manufacturers were asked to remove an oil from their products which was found to be harmful to health. Compulsory printing of ingredients on cola bottles, including re-usable glass bottles, will clear doubts about the presence of any intoxicant or addicting substance in cola drinks.”
It is indeed galling that even health directives are the privilege of our netas, like many other privileges.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.