India could ban junk food and cola ads on children’s TV

A Swatch Bharat poster on obesity

The government  of India is exploring ways to ban the advertising of junk foods and soft drinks on television channels targeted at children, junior minister for information and technology Rajyavardhan Rathore told the parliament today.

Rathore said intimations in this regard will be sent to television channels soon, and the idea was to discourage children from consuming unhealthy food items.

The move follows recommendations by a committee set up to explore the matter.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has constituted an Expert Group to address the issue of High Fat, Sugar and Salt foods (HFSS).

“The expert Group in its report said the food companies could be asked to voluntarily desist from advertising HFSS foods on childrens’ channels. Bodies like food and Beverage Alliance of India (FBIA) have already decided to voluntarily restrict food and beverage advertisements concerning children,” the ministry said.

Depending on how ‘junk food’ is defined, any ban could have a major impact on the revenues of children’s television channels such as Pogo, Nickelodeon and so on.

Children’s television channels derive a large part of their income from the exhibition of advertisements related to candies, chocolates, health drinks and so on.

UPDATE: The official, written answer by the ministry to the query on banning of such advertisements says that currently there is no such proposal, but that attempts will be made for a voluntary abstinence by advertisers.

Childhood obesity is a rising problem, especially in areas of India that were prone to frequent famines in the old days.

In areas where famines were prevalent, only human beings who had the tendency to eat up and store the fat on their body could survive. Modest eaters would be wiped out by famines, while the survivors would pass down their ‘heavy appetite’ gene to the next generation.

On the other hand, obesity is less of a concern in certain parts of India where food scarcity was never a life-threatening problem. In such areas, people tend to eat moderately even when food is available.

While such a tendency was a life-saver in the old days, in today’s world, the tendency to ‘stock up’ on fat can often shorten a person’s lifespan considerably.

The problem has been exacerbated by the emergence of mobile phones, tablets, TV and video games as the major source of entertainment for children, replacing fat-burning activities like outdoor games.