Policy needed for better labeling of food items: ICMR

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New Delhi, Jan 15: Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) today stressed the need for formulating a policy for better labeling of packaged food items to help prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that account for maximum number of deaths in the country.

As per World Health Organization, every year roughly 5.8 million people die of NCDs, including heart and lung problems, stroke, cancer and diabetes. That is, 1 in 4 Indians risks dying of an NCD before the age of 70.

Stressing on preventive healthcare, Director General of ICMR Soumya Swaminathan said better labeling of food items and reducing sugar and salt (content) in marketed products can help prevent NCDs.

“A policy (for better) labeling of food items can help a lot because people don’t know what they are eating. For example, only 5 gm of salt is required per day whereas the average intake is 20 gm. This is what leads to high blood pressure and kidney problems,” Swaminathan said, adding these are policy matters and government is working on them.

A nation-wide study on diabetes being conducted by ICMR indicates that 10-15 per cent of people are diabetic and an equal number pre-diabetic.

“India-Diabetes is a very important study being conducted by ICMR. We have completed it in 17 states. One of its important findings says that 10-15 per cent of the population in states is diabetic and another 10-15 per cent pre-diabetic, means they will develop the disease in future,” she said.

The prevalence was found to be lower in rural states and high in urban areas like Tamil Nadu, Kerela and Punjab.The risk factors of NCDs are obesity, diabetes and hypertension, she said.

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According to a report on Global Burden of Disease released last year, communicable diseases accounted for more than half of the deaths in India in 1990 and in 2013, it was NCDs accounting for the same, she said.

“This means that chronic diseases are increasing. The top most risk factor today is high blood pressure, diabetes and both indoor and outdoor air-pollution,” she said.

“In rural India, 70 per cent of the people depend on solid fuel which is the major cause of it (indoor air pollution). Prevention is very important by spreading a massive awareness programme,” she added.

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