NEW DELHI (Diya TV) – India is witnessing a surge in the consumption of junk food, with sales exceeding $30 billion last year, posing a significant health risk, especially among children. As global packaged food and beverage giants face challenges in Western markets, they are eyeing populous emerging economies like India as the next frontier for growth.

At Lotus Valley International School near Delhi, seasoned nutritionist Aditi Mehrotra addresses the rising menace of junk food among second-grade students. The aggressive push of packaged food companies into developing nations with weaker public health awareness is evident, and Mehrotra emphasizes the need to combat the allure of “bad sugars” and promote traditional Indian diets.

Executives from major food companies view countries like India as a lifeline for their industry. Regulatory scrutiny and health awareness have slowed demand for snacks and chocolate in Western markets. In contrast, India presents an untapped market where ultra-processed and packaged foods are still novelties, and marketing restrictions, especially concerning children, are rare.

The numbers tell a compelling story: snacks and soft drinks sales in India nearly tripled over the past decade, surpassing $30 billion last year. Unilever, a major player in the market, expects India to become its largest revenue source within a decade, with 60% of their business now coming from emerging markets.

However, this rapid shift in dietary habits comes with a cost. India has experienced a tripling of adult obesity rates since its economic liberalization three decades ago. Childhood obesity is also on the rise, making India a concerning hotspot globally.

Public health campaigners argue that voluntary measures by food companies, such as reducing sugar content, are insufficient. They call for tougher regulations akin to those imposed on the tobacco industry. Unlike some other nations, India lacks strict regulations on advertising unhealthy foods to children.

The lax packaging rules in India, with many products featuring English labels, which is spoken by only a fraction of the population, exacerbate the issue. Advertisements often target children, promoting unhealthy foods without adequate disclosure of nutritional information.

Efforts to implement front-of-container labeling or color-coding systems similar to Europe have faced resistance from food lobbyists. The potential adoption of a health star rating system is viewed skeptically by public health advocates who fear it could be easily manipulated by companies.

The dilemma facing India’s policymakers is striking a balance between attracting foreign investment and protecting public health. As the country grapples with this conundrum, the urgency to raise awareness about nutrition and the consequences of consuming junk food grows.

The growing market for junk food in India raises serious health concerns, prompting a call for stricter regulations and heightened public awareness to address the escalating crisis.