In the absence of strict labelling criteria, nutritionally void products can claim to be enriched with vitamins, minerals, calcium and iron, while conveniently overlooking the fact they are laden with preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial colours and flavours, excess salt, sugar and unhealthy fats.
For decades, most industrialised countries have been cracking down on junk food manufacturers and fast food companies. Increased health consciousness in the public has also forced them to use more wholesome raw materials. However, self-regulation by the advertising industry is not working.
London is phasing out junk food ads from the city’s public transport network. Mexico, a country with the second highest rate of adult obesity in the world, saw consumption of fizzy drinks drop by 7.6% since a tax on soft drinks was imposed two years ago. Other countries are watching the Mexico experience closely to see the impact on Type 2 diabetes of taxing sugary drinks.
The UK has also banned advertisements of a health drink that claimed to make children ‘taller, stronger and sharper’. However, the same company continues to air TV commercials with similar content in South Asia, including Nepal.
Nepal has no strict policies or advertising standards to regulate outlandish health claims made by manufacturers of packaged foods, fizzy drinks and franchised fast food outlets. Public awareness of the health impact of sugar consumption is growing in the West with books like The Case Against Sugar, but there is no such campaign in Nepal.
Arjun M Bhattarai of the Advertising Association of Nepal says the government has no code of conduct governing marketing of harmful foodstuff, and the industry cannot act until there is. Nepal has followed the international trend in regulating cigarette advertising, but there have not been similar restrictions for alcohol and processed foods.
“Advertisements for junk foods should be strictly regulated just like ads for cigarettes,” says nutritionist Sophia Uprety. “Junk food tastes good only because it contains layers of addictive flavour enhancers, which are not good for our health. The traditional Nepali diet is a goldmine of nutrition, we do not need to look anywhere else. Let us not wait for the West to tell us what we already know.”
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Traditional Nepali whole foods like buckwheat, barley, corn, millet and a variety of legumes and spices such as turmeric are fresh, organic and wholesome, having medicinal properties. Ironically, however, consumers in Western societies now regard these foods Nepalis are discarding as superfoods, while Nepalis buy junk food that the West has rejected.
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