New Delhi: “Agree. Good suggestion. We will follow,” said Harsh Vardhan, the new health minister of the country, in reply to a letter from public health professionals about celebrities endorsing junk food.
The letter has been addressed to celebrities from Bollywood and entertainment such as Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Kapil Sharma. They have also written to Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh, as Indian cricketers.
“Since you are involved in marketing of unhealthy foods as a brand ambassador, may we request you as responsible citizens of the India, to reconsider your decision and call off such endorsements,” say the health professionals from Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest who have written this letter.
For example, Ranbir Kapoor advertises for Coca Cola, Ranveer Singh for Thums Up, Deepika Padukone for Good Day biscuits, Varun Dhwan for Frooti, Salman Khan for Appy Fizz and Kapil Sharma’s show endorses Maggi noodles. Virat Kohli advertises for Dominos Pizza and Yuvraj Singh for Cadburys.
While NAPI received a reply from Harsh Vardhan’s office, they sent this letter to the celebrities mentioned and also to Indian officials like Rajiv Kumar and Vinod Paul (from the NITI Aayog).
NAPI says that these celebrities are appearing in ads and endorsing food that is high in salt and sugar and is ultra processed, and that “None of the advertisements declare the amount of sugar or salt in the product.”
By their calculation, a single packet of instant noodles itself gives a person 42% of the daily recommended sodium intake. Many of the sugary drinks, chocolates, energy drinks, sweet wafers, biscuit and cola drinks which they analysed were found to be crossing the sugar threshold recommended by WHO. One 300 ml of cola can push a person upto 66% of their daily sugar requirement.
Last year, many members of NAPI also raised the issue of Amitabh Bachchan’s partnering with the company Horlicks, on a nutrition campaign. Bachchan apparently took the criticism seriously and the campaign wound up at the time. He has previously renounced his association with Pepsi.
Food which is high in salt and sugar and which is ultra processed, can trigger obesity, diabetes and cancer. NAPI has also informed the celebrities of a study published in the British Medical Journal which suggests a possible link between sugary drinks and cancer.
“Aggressive marketing of these foods increases their consumption and replaces the real foods,” says NAPI.