Oven hot pizzas, crispy French fries, spicy hot dogs, and yummy burgers may go off your daily menu if the Indian Council of Medical Research has its way. Concerned over high rate of obesity among Indians, particularly children and young adults, ICMR plans to come out with new dietary guidelines, which will tell you to avoid fast or junk food.
Obesity and overweight are often blamed on junk food that includes pizzas, French fries, burgers, sandwiches, curry puffs, aloo samosas, potato chips and cream-filled pastry. And ICMR, which comes out with dietary and nutrition recommendations at regular intervals, now plans to suggest that Indians stay away from the junk food if they want to stay fit and healthy. The ICMR's move follows the US government's decision last month to revise nutrition standards for food items sold for schoolchildren.
But pizza lovers need not lose their heart. Fast food companies plan to fine-tune their products to meet the nutritional and dietary requirements of ICMR. Your favourite pizza and burger will now come loaded with less calories and low cholesterol content. They will satiate your taste buds even while working light on the stomach, if fast food companies are to be believed.
"All the time we innovate and experiment with our products. When ICMR comes out with the new guidelines, we will definitely bring out sandwiches and other foodstuff that are healthy, tasty, less fattening and appealing to all children and youngsters," promises a spokesperson of Subway from Chennai.
Other fast food companies like Domino's too plan to fine-tune their menu to meet ICMR standards to fight obesity. "We are open to changes and innovation," said a representative of corporate communications of Domino's, Noida.
While it takes time for fast food companies to innovate and adjust their menu, official statistics present a grim picture of the health of Indian children, particularly those living in urban areas. One in eight children in the country is overweight. Almost one-third of the children in the country will become obese if their diet is not fine-tuned immediately.
According to Dr VM Katoch, ICMR director-general, the new guidelines on obesity control will include recommendation that will bring behavioural change in the eating habits. Already the city-based National Institute of Nutrition, an ICMR constituent body, in its 14-point dietary guidelines suggest that people should avoid over-eating to prevent over-weight and obesity.
"Proper physical activity is essential to maintain desirable body weight. Processed and ready-to-eat foods should be used judiciously. Sugar should be used sparingly. And salt should be used in minimum quantity," the NIN guidelines point out.
The obesity levels in the present generation are so high that health researchers looking at the dietary habits and lifestyle changes have come to conclusion that the present generation will be the first in human history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents, observes nutrition consultant Dr Suneetha Sapur.
"The main fear is child and adolescent obesity, which has now reached epidemic proportions in all industrial countries and is fast catching in our country ," she adds.
Ergonomics and obesity expert Prof Dr S Bakthtiar Choudhary agrees. "junk food is devoid of minerals, fibre and have many preservatives. Besides junk food, eating in front of TV is the other main reason for obesity".
The new final draft recommendations of the ICMR on the total calorie intake for Indians fix 910 for boys between one and two years; 2030 for children between 10 and 11 years; and 3060 for boys between 17 and 18 years. In case of girls, the calorie intake is 830, 1740 and 2450 respectively.
Men who lead a sedentary life need take 2320 calories per day, those with moderate work 2730 and those involved in heavy work 3490 calories. The corresponding figures for women are 1900, 2230 and 2550 calories.
Following are the healthy weights and heights of a reference person in India:
Reference infant of India:
0 to 6 months: 5.4 kgs
6 to 12 months: 8.4 kgs
Reference child of India:
1 to 3 years: 12.9 kgs
4 to 6 years: 18 kgs
7 to 9 years: 25.1 kgs
Reference boy of India:
10 to 12 years: 34.3 kgs
13 to 15 years: 47.6 kgs
16 to 17 years: 55.4 kgs
Reference girl of India:
10 to 12 years: 35 kgs
13 to 15 years: 46 kgs
16 to 17 years: 52.1 kgs
Adult reference person:
Man: 18 to 29 years: 60 kgs
Woman: 18 to 29: 55 kgs