Junk foods affecting human health

By Asmat Shah Garwaki

PESHAWAR, Jan 15 (APP): Like pneumonia and diarrhea, overweight and obesity during childhood have increased manifold in recent years in developing countries including Pakistan due to excessive use of unsafe and substandard foods.

Therefore, it was need to the hour to impose ban on sale and purchase of junk foods at least in the educational institutions to safeguard health of the school-going kids.

The substandard food is considered one of the leading causes of diseases including overweight and obesity in children of poor and middle class of the society living in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Brazil and Mexico etc.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), one out of 10 people in the world fall ill after eating unhygienic and unhealthy food per year. The data revealed that the number of children aged five to 19 having symptoms of obesity and overweight had increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 worldwide due to junk food consumption during schools’ time.

“The cases of overweight and obesity have increased in Pakistan due to excessive consumption of unhealthy food, use of mobile phones and sedentary lifestyle,” said principle medical officer and children specialist, Government Hospital Pabbi Nowshera, Dr Riaz Khan Malik while talking to APP.

Dr Riaz while citing the Pakistan Health Commission (PHC)’s 2018 report said that over 11% of children in the country were overweight and more than 5% obese, while according to data of compiled through hospitals based studies and surveys revealed that 40% to 50% of children were either overweight or obese, which was a matter of great concern.

He said that the lockdown restrictions, schools and gyms closures, and limited sports events during the COVID-19 era, especially in urban areas, had resulted in the rise of obesity cases in the country. “Overweight and obesity was as injurious to health as pneumonia and diarrhea and if untreated can lead to serious health complications,” he said, adding that overweight youth aged 20-25 years can easily develop diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, digestive disorders and many harmonic issues.

He said that burgers, shawarma, potato chips, snacks, beverages and open sale of unhygienic foods in bazaars, markets and educational institutions were affecting children’s health.

Dr Riaz Malik recommended daily exercise, healthy balanced diet, and avoidance of sugary drinks and dining out to reduce risk of obesity.

“My grandson Ismail Khan (4) was complaining about irritable bowel syndrome for the last couple of weeks and I brought him for medical checkup as he was fond of snacks and chips openly sold in our village shops and markets,” said Misal Khan, a resident of Pabbi Nowshera while talking to APP. “The doctors diagnosed him with irritable bowel syndrome citing an excessive use of snacks and locally made chips besides high carbohydrate rich food and beverages,” he said.

Qaiser Khan, Spokesman of KP Food Safety and Halal Food Authority (KPFS&HFA) told the news agency that 158,481 inspections were conducted and 944,178 kilograms and litres of substandard food items discarded last year.

The teams discarded 152,460 litres of counterfeit beverages, 41,678 litres of adulterated milk, and 122,128 kg of substandard bakery & confectionery items.

Similarly, various wholesale dealers were inspected, and 205,584kg of substandard items seized and discarded from such premises. The authority also discarded 35,662 kg of spices and 26,629 kg of unhealthy chips besides 20,790 kg of oil and ghee, and 19,314 kg of stale fish, among many other poor food items in the province.

“Most of these substandard food items were discarded in Peshawar, where 359,634 kg/litres of unhygienic items seized and dumped,” he said, adding in Mardan and Nowshera districts, over 114,033 and 112,483 kg of substandard and unhealthy food items discarded.

He said that seven new mobile food testing laboratories were established in different divisions of the province to check quality of products in hotels and conduct crackdown against substandard and adulterated food items on the spot. Qaiser said that five more such laboratories would be established in the current fiscal year.

The Authority’s director operations, Altaf Hussain said quality of food items in markets were being closely monitored and strict action are being taken against violators. A multi-pronged strategy has been adopted to counter food adulteration with the help of mobile food testing laboratories. He said adulteration hubs and violators were caught red-handed and legal actions initiated and hefty fines imposed on them.

“We have banned junk food including carbonated and artificial beverages, chips and other unhealthy food items in premises of schools and colleges,” said the Authority’s Director Technical Dr. Abdul Sattar Shah.

He recommended the use of fresh food in daily diet, especially in vegetables, fresh juices and dairy products for a healthy life.

Shah Rukh Ali Khan, Director General KP FS&HFA said that mobile food testing laboratories were equipped with high-tech testing equipment with an ability to test over 20 food items instantly.

“These laboratories are very effective in identifying adulterants in food items, and for that reason, we are further increasing the number of mobile laboratories.

The procurement process for five mobile food testing laboratories is in process and to be completed soon.” He said the provincial government was also upgrading facilities in food testing laboratory at Hayatabad, Peshawar.

Shahrukh Khan said the monitoring of food services in markets has increased and special focus was being paid to bring positive changes in behavior of food handlers and owners for better quality assurance.

The DG said over 7,000 food handlers were provided with food safety level training last year for better food processing besides regular awareness sessions conducted for promotion of healthy food practices in the province.