In today's Finshots we see how FSSAI is trying to get India to eat healthy

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The Story

A few days ago, FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) sent notices to several restaurants. They wanted to know why these establishments weren’t displaying the calorific value on their food menus. And while many restaurants requested an extension — to comply with the food regulator’s new norms, about 16 restaurants failed to respond.

And guess what happened to these 16 restaurants? They got their licence suspended. Now, if you’re wondering where all this is coming from — Well, know that FSSAI has been trying to get India to eat healthy. And they pioneered the 'Eat Right India' movement in 2018 with a clear objective to educate Indians on eating right. As part of this campaign, they also introduced new labelling guidelines mandating certain restaurants (those with 10+ outlets and a turnover of 25 Cr) to print the calorific value of dishes they serve on their menus.

And FSSAI has had good reason to pursue this mandate.

Over the years, increased disposable incomes and easy access to restaurants have changed the way Indians eat -both in metros and non-metros. Prepared meals have replaced home-cooked food. For instance, last year, over 45 million Indians ate at their favourite restaurants at least once, a report from Dineout said. And while eating out may be convenient, it creates a whole different set of problems. For starters, diet-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are on the rise in the country. Over two-thirds of individuals suffering from Non Communicable Diseases (such as hypertension, diabetes etc) in the country are in the age groups between 26 and 59 — the most productive time frame. And considering that over 60% of the nation’s population is below the age of 35, this trend is quite alarming.

And India isn’t the first country trying to do something about this silent killer. Back in 2008, New York became the first city in the US to mandate large food chains to display total calorie intake on their menus. Since then, countries such as the US, UK, UAE and others  have made it compulsory for restaurants to display calorie counts.

However, while this move is laudable, questions still remain, especially in the Indian context.

For starters, how do you determine calorific value when there’s so much variation in Indian cuisine? There are over 30 different styles of Biryani in this country with each region offering its own spin. They use different ingredients and cooking methods. And analysing each dish to identify the total calorific value would be a wasteful exercise.

So FSSAI isn’t going all guns blazing already. In fact, they are yet to finalise guidelines on testing parameters. So until then, they are only serving ‘improvement notices’ to restaurants without resorting to coercive measures.

The second question is whether this actually helps people. Will people consume fewer calories and make healthier food choices when the calorific value is clearly printed on the menu?

Well, the truth is — we don’t know for certain. Research on the matter is still contentious. For instance, most studies aimed at observing the influence of calorie labelling on food orders do show that people order fewer calories when it’s printed in bold. However, it’s not entirely sure if the relationship is causal i.e. researchers weren’t certain if people ordered fewer calories specifically due to the labels.

But even if it doesn’t drastically impact your decision-making, the guidelines still help a specific subset of people — those with food allergies.

Up to 3% of Indians may already have food allergies, the majority of these under 40 years of age. They cause roughly 30,000 emergency treatments and 100 to 200 deaths per year in the nation. And since most menus simply don’t carry allergen information, these people have to be extra sceptical about what they eat.

However, with the new labelling guidelines being enforced, they can definitely have a bit of a breather. Also if you want to know how these new labelling guidelines may change the look of the menu, here’s a sample image.

What do you think? Will this actually get India to eat healthy?

You tell us.

Until then…

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