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Fivefold spike in sugary drinks sales worrying diabetes campaigners

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Fivefold spike in sugary drinks sales worrying diabetes campaigners

Indians are consuming five times more sweetened drinks than they did a decade and a half ago, adding to concerns over the country’s already substantial rate of diabetes and other so-called lifestyle diseases.

Highlighting recent changes in Indian tastes towards more westernised diets, India’s Diabetes Foundation and its Centre of Nutrition and Metabolic Research have estimated that the country’s annual per capita consumption of drinks containing added sugar increased from around 2 litres in 1998 to 11 litres in 2014. 

Increased sugar intake through processed foods and sugary beverages is blamed by doctors for contributing to an estimated 184,000 adult deaths around the world each year, according to an recent Indian study.

Diabetes is fast gaining the status of a potential epidemic in India with research last year identifying more than 62m diabetics diagnosed with the disease.

This number is expected to grow to 80m by 2030, while China (42.3 million) and the United States (30.3 million) will also see significant increases in those affected by the disease.

According to the Indian study, easy availability of packaged sugary beverages in rural and urban areas is a significantly driver for India’s growing sugar consumption at a time when consumption of traditional Indian sweets and pastries is dropping.

The per capita consumption of traditional sugars such as jaggery and khandsari​ dropped from 8.72kg per annum in 2001 to approximately 5kg per annum in 2011, the Diabetes Foundation says.

The consumption pattern of sweets and beverages is rapidly changing among children as well. Importantly, sugar-sweetened beverages and other sugar-containing high calorie foods are easily available within and around school premises​,” the report said.

Fearing that companies will continue to invest huge amounts of money to further raise soft drink consumption in India, the Centre for Science and Environment pressure group said the government must do more to protect its citizens. 

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the CSE, said: “With companies investing billions of dollars to maximise consumption of sugary soft drinks in India, as well as other low- and middle-income countries, those nations must take steps to protect public health​.” 

15 years on: India’s FDI boom has still not arrived

India is still waiting for its promised boom from foreign direct investment in the food processing sector even though the segment has now been open to international companies for 15 years. 

Coca-Cola is one of the few success stories of India's FDI policy

According to the India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (Dipp), the food processing sector has received just 2.51% of all foreign direct investment (FDI) in India since 2000. 

Speaking to Times of India​, food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal blamed zealous food regulators for scaring off international investors from trading in India. 

She also warned that this years events surrounding Nestlé’s Maggi brand of noodles would prompt further decline in overseas investment.

Earlier this year, state food regulators claimed to have detected raised levels of monosodium glutamate and lead in the massively popular snack food, prompting further positive tests in India and other countries, followed by a recall by Nestlé in June.

Activists accuse religious views of getting in the way of tackling malnutrition

India’s government-run lunch programme, which was designed to provide nutritious daily lunches for 120m malnourished children, is “clearly not enough to make up for the calories and nutrition that poverty has denied​”. 

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan

The AP reported this week that nutritionists and social activists were outraged by moves prompted by the government to “push a religious and political agenda at the expense of children's health​”.

Naresh Biswas, a food rights activist quoted by AP, said: “There is a deep political motive behind the decision to stop eggs [from the lunch programme]. The government is forcing these people to become vegetarians and draw them closer to Hinduism​”. 

Last month, calls for eggs be added to the lunch programme as a key source of protein were rejected by Madhya Pradesh’s chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a stronghold of the Hindu nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata party. Instead, he suggested that milk and bananas be given to children instead.

As long I am the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, eggs will not be introduced​," Chouhan said at the time. "The human body is meant to consume vegetarian food, which has everything the human body requires​.”

More than half the children in Madhya Pradesh, with a population of nearly 77 million, are underweight and malnourished, the AP said.

Only 10 out of India’s 36 states and territories include eggs in their child nutrition programmes. While none of these 10 reflect BJP-run states, several others under opposition control also leave eggs off the menu in an effort to appease Hindu sentiments.

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