Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Our fatal attraction to junk foods


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Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about the harmful effects that soft drinks have on the health of the nation and commended the Minister of Health, Dr Fuad Khan, for his support of the "Fight the Fat" campaign. I also mentioned that so-called "energy" drinks and sweetened juices were no better and that the health bill of the country could be reduced by 50 per cent if everyone simply stopped drinking these sugary concoctions.

I called for an aggressive campaign by the Ministries of Health and Education to educate the population on the dangers of these drinks and other junk food, and to ban their sale/use in school cafeterias, the school-feeding programme and school-related events.

One year later, nothing much has changed. There has been no aggressive campaign and our school children continue to imbibe these unhealthy foods in ignorant bliss, many times encouraged by their own parents. On the positive side, many individuals have decided to take charge of their health and made a personal decision to refrain from consuming these foods.

Now "energy" drinks are back in the news with the investigation of two popular brands possibly linked to a total of 18 deaths.

While these deaths are being probed in the United States, we may have had our own casualties here. I recall a headline from July 2010 which read, "Heart patient dies after energy drink". It is believed that the man suffered the ultimate fate by consuming the drink with alcohol.

Once again, Dr Khan is in the forefront, warning citizens of the dangers of consuming "energy" drinks, especially with alcohol. He mentioned that the Health Ministry has already launched a campaign against the use of "energy" drinks. I haven't seen it so maybe it is not aggressive enough. In any case, he should not single out "energy" drinks.

He should take the opportunity to make a list of those products whose consumption is known to be unhealthy. I'll bet anything that that list would have a lot in common with the list of items on which VAT was removed. It might have been a good idea to remove VAT only on those items which are known to be healthy.

The easiest way to cut our food import bill is to convince people not to consume the unhealthy junk which flood our grocery shelves. As an added bonus, it would also reduce our health bill.

But even as we go out of our way to make junk food/snacks, sugary drinks and unhealthy oils cheaper, I make yet another plea to remove the 40 per cent duty on coconut oil, the healthiest oil on the planet.

Noel Kalicharan

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