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Don’t fatten the nation, minister tells stars

Calcutta, June 9: Our household heroes, who set the nation’s pulse racing, are making us couch potatoes, obese, diabetic and more prone to cardiac ailments, the Union health minister said today.

Sachin Tendulkar, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and their ilk should stop promoting soft drinks and junk food, Anbumani Ramadoss said at a programme to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Central Food Laboratory in Calcutta.

“I am appealing to Sachin, Sehwag, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and other sports and film personalities to desist from promoting these soft drinks and fast foods,” he said. “These are doing much harm to the society.”

Obesity, diabetes and several other diseases, the minister feels, are on the rise in India because of the consumption of these products. “Even children aged 10 to 12 years are suffering from cardiac ailments because of the consumption of junk food.”

“If these stars want to do some good for the society”, Ramadoss said, they should shun such ads.

In 2003, reports of high pesticide content in 12 soft drink brands had triggered a nationwide furore. This April, consumer courts in Delhi fined two cola companies after a condom and dead insects were found in sealed soft drink bottles.

But the health minister today stoked a debate on how safe they were even without the impurities.

Doctors said though there is no proof of soft drinks directly causing obesity, diabetes or cardiac problems, some of their ingredients can lead to the problems. “Instead of appealing to the stars, the government should stress on quality control,” a doctor who asked not to be named said.

A 330-ml soft drink bottle contains around 35 mg of sugar, which is equivalent to seven teaspoonfuls and means 140 calories, an expert said.

“When one consumes soft drink, the calorie load increases rapidly,” said Sudip Chatterjee, an endocrinologist.

According to Kunal Sarkar, a cardiac surgeon, excess sugar, caffeine and carbonated gases in soft drinks can be linked to calorie and dietary imbalance. “These can also create behavioural problems in children. If consumed unlimited, one can become prone to cardiac problems.”

“Soft drinks and junk food spoil appetite for more nutritious stuff and raise the blood sugar level,” said surgeon B. Ramana.

Ramadoss said a draft “will be finalised within a few weeks” to make it mandatory for food packets to carry the names of ingredients and their nutritional contents.

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