nstant food that comes in an assortment of flavours, colours and preservatives has plagued the health and well-being of tender lives as much as those of the adults. Delectable dishes that contains a lot of calories beyond the daily requirement, sweets and other sorts of delicacies that tantalize the taste buds draws the attention of everyone with a sweet aroma and beauty that is a secret confined to the culinary art. Despite the various awareness programmes that are launched countrywide to alert the public about the potential risk of consuming artificial food energisers, artificial food additives and instant food yet there remains a majority who fall prey to these food trends.
Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Assistant Secretary Dr. Nalinda Herath said they had carried out a major campaign on food safety in Sri Lanka. The GMOA had also presented a ten-fold proposal to the Government last year concerning this issue. Dr. Herath shared these views at a news conference that was held recently at the Head Office of GMOA.
Dr. Herath stressed the importance of boycotting food that contained artificial food preservatives and artificial energisers. Furthermore, the diseases that can be caused due to the consumption of these food elements, especially owing to instant food are high among the young generation.
Speaking to Daily Mirror, GMOA Committee Member and Medical Nutritionist Dr. Timothy Wickramasekara said the percentage of children among the urban population who have succumbed to obesity, malnutrition and those who are in between amount to about thirty per cent, twenty percent and fifty percent respectively.
“This has resulted in the rise of non communicable diseases among the younger generation of the urban population which is a bad symptom,” Dr. Wickramasekara added.
Most often the target group of these unhealthy foods is innocent school children. Recent research concerning this topic had helped in identifying that kidney diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer are the major diseases that are peaking high among the younger generation due to the high consumption of unhealthy food. This condition is highly evident among the urban population of the country.
Food containing MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is very popular in Chinese restaurants and sometimes they are found in savoury snacks and processed food. Glutamate is considered as the fifth taste known as ‘Umami’ which is also translated to Japanese as ‘pleasant savory taste’.
Recent scientific research indicates that MSG could cause cancer although scientific proof that supports this statement has not been established yet. The side effects of Monosodium Glutamate are known as the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ which refers to illnesses such as burning sensation. palpitation, headache and chest pain. Despite these controversial notions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Medical Association and the National Academy of Science confirm that MSG is safe for general consumption. Many fail to notice the side effects of this food additive because it is universally accepted as safe for use. It is important that the health and food authorities take necessary steps to raise awareness among the public pertaining to the use of MSG in food products.
Advertising of unhealthy food which consists of artificial elements (preservatives and additives) in food items such as popsicles, soft drinks, margarine and etc is apparent in many instances. Dr. Herath highlighted the importance of prohibiting the promotion of unhealthy food items through the media as they have a negative impact on the wellbeing of school children.
It is vital that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education work in collaboration to ensure the safety and the nutritious value of the food that the school children consume. The recent circular banning milk powder advertisements was highly commended by the GMOA. Dr. Herath said it was high time that the relevant authorities took action against food companies that advertise unhealthy food.
“This has become a big burden to the health of Sri Lanka. Food companies are trying to get the attention of the young population,” Dr. Herath added.
Instant food, preservatives and additives need to be replaced by food that is healthy and high in nutritious value. Vegetables and fruits that are grown in one’s own garden would further enhance the living standards of the people. ‘Traditional agriculture must be promoted country wide and the use of chemicals for agricultural purposes must be discontinued’ said Dr. Herath. In addition, he also said that an ideology is developing in the western sphere which signifies the value of fresh food that can be obtained from one’s homeland.
The ‘School Canteen Policy’ which was drawn up by the Ministry of education focuses on the promotion of healthy food among children. Chief Health Officer of the Colombo Municipal Council, Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni said that the main objectives of the policy were to prevent the rate of obesity, diabetes and hypertension among school children which is currently at the rise.
’ According to available statistics, 20 000 people are dying per annum in Sri Lanka due to the increased use of fat, salt and sugar in food’ added Dr. Wijayamuni. He also said that the level of mean blood pressure is going up due to the consumption of unhealthy food. ‘Heart attack, strokes and cancer are the three main killers that threaten the lives of people due to the excess consumption of such food items. Diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia are the underline causes for heart attacks’ added Dr. Wijayamuni.
In line with the School Canteen Policy, many programmes have been organized. Dr. Wijayamuni said that they are trying to prevent students from drinking sugared beverages and they have introduced fresh juice as a better substitute which is healthy and rich in nutritious value. They have also launched programmes that look into food safety and the sanitary conditions of the school and a track record of the investigations conducted are maintained by them.
“It is evident that the circular on the ‘School Canteen Policy’ which prohibits the selling of unhealthy food such as those that contain an excess of wheat flour, artificial colouring, additives and preservatives are not given serious consideration by the relevant authorities. Unfortunately, many schools fail to take heed on the adverse effects that it would cause children and the commercialization of such food items in canteens is still evident in many schools,” Dr. Wickramasekara said.
Instant food, preservatives and additives need to be replaced by food that is healthy and high in nutritious value. Vegetables and fruits that are grown in one’s own garden would further enhance the living standards of the people. “Traditional agriculture must be promoted countrywide and the use of chemicals for agricultural purposes must be discontinued,” Dr. Herath said. He said an ideology was developing in the West which signified the value of fresh food that could be obtained from one’s homeland.
Speaking to Daily Mirror, Dr. Wickramasekara said measures were being taken worldwide to promote the safety of the food people consume. ‘Codex Alimentarius’, an international standard of guidelines and codes that ensures the safety and quality of food is setup as a joint collaboration of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accordingly, issues concerning contaminants, food additives and biotechnology are some of the most common debates that are taken into consideration at the Codex meetings.
He said it was the duty of the Sri Lankan Food Authority to ensure the safety and nutritious value of food in our country.
According to the Health Ministry’s Food Control Administration Unit Assistant Director H. Tilakaratne, “The quality of food products for commercial purposes cannot be preserved without the use of preservatives.” Food preservatives are necessary to maintain the freshness of food products but they can be used only within the permited range.
Retired Government Analyst and the Food Advisory Committee Member E. G. Somapala, supported Mr. Tilakaratne’s statement saying preservatives are inevitable elements that must be used to secure the freshness and quality of food products.
Mr. Somapala’s scientific research has also helped in identifying that the rate of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) that is evident in many ready-to-serve drinks is high. A large number of drinks that fall under the category of ready-to-serve contain an excessive amount of SO2 which is not very advisable for the health. The use of SO2 in soft drinks could have a negative impact in the body in terms of asthma. This situation mainly rises due to the manufacturer’s lack of scientific knowledge in the preparation of such beverages.
The best preservatives that can be used for food products are those that can be extracted from herbs as they are natural preservatives. Furthermore, it has been identified that the side effects of the use of artificial preservatives are sometimes not recognized. These are identified as oncogenic agents that cause cancer unlike natural preservatives which is considered as a highly valuable source that acts as an anti-cancer agent.
Children are most often addicted to flavoured drinks, sweetmeats that contain a lot of artificial preservatives and instant food that are high in calories. This does not promote a balanced dietary system which is crucial for the healthy development of a younger generation.
“It is always better to consume food such as fresh fruits and vegetables and children must be given home-made food as far as possible,” said Dr. A.M.A.S.B. Mahamithawa, Director of the Nutrition Division of the Ministry of Health. When inquired on the high intake of flavoured milk, soft drinks and yoghurt consumed by children, Dr. Mahamithawa said that despite their nutritious values, these food elements consists of an excess amount of sugar. This may lead to non communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity which is already evident in many school going children. According to Dr. Mahamithawa it would be advisable to avoid consuming such delicacies on a daily basis and resort to a healthy diet system. He said it would not cause serious harm if they are consumed in limited amounts.
To ensure the well-being of children, it is vital that the relevant authorities and parents act sensibly. Children as well as adults need to be aware of the potential risk they face due to unhealthy food trends. The consumption of unhealthy food that contains calories beyond the daily requirement, soft drinks and Popsicles with an excess of colouring and artificial flavours and other types of food that causes a threat to the physical well-being of the children must be avoided and it was vital for public awareness to be raised regarding this issue constantly.