Com­mer­cials mis­lead con­sumers by shift­ing the fo­cus from poor nu­tri­tion to phys­i­cal ex­er­cise

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - JY­OT­SNA SINGH

Com­mer­cials of junk food shift fo­cus from poor nu­tri­tion to phys­i­cal ex­er­cise to at­tract con­sumers

THE JUNK FOOD in­dus­try is once again in the eye of a storm. This time not just for its un­healthy con­tent but for try­ing to mis­lead the pub­lic through ad­ver­tise­ments which link its food with phys­i­cal ex­er­cise.

Sam­ple this. A re­cent ad for Maggi Atta noo­dles fea­tur­ing ac­tress Mad­huri Dixit shows chil­dren play­ing a video game sit­ting inside a house when they hear screams of “goal”. They rush out to see a fit and healthy mother play­ing with other chil­dren. She in­spires them to start play­ing out­side. Hun­gry after their ac­tiv­ity, they want to eat some­thing as in­ter­est­ing as a foot­ball game. What else but Maggi Atta noo­dles, the so-called “wheat ver­sion with nu­tri­tion of three ro­tis and vegetables”. Since the com­mer­cial was re­leased in early June, Nes­tle has ag­gres­sively cam­paigned with it on the so­cial me­dia with the tagline “health is en­joy­able”.

Yet another ad, of Nada Maida (a brand popular in South In­dia), tries to por­tray that con­sum­ing maida (white flour) will make young chil­dren en­er­getic. Link­ing junk food with health is not re­stricted to In­dia. A youtube ad of Coca Cola, meant for the western au­di­ence, makes it seem a fun ex­er­cise to earn a can of coke. The ad, which re­ceived more than 200,000 hits in one-and-a-half months, asks par­tic­i­pants to burn 140 calo­ries to win a can of coke. Burn­ing that much calo­ries re­quires 23 min­utes of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, the ad claims. It ends with the au­di­ence cheer­ing for the peo­ple who “earn” their coke.

Hol­low claims, empty calo­ries

The in­dus­try’s link­ing of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise with junk food can hardly be con­strued as a re­spon­si­ble re­sponse to crit­i­cism of sell­ing un­healthy food for decades.The ques­tion be­ing asked is whether th­ese ads or foods even in­spire a cul­ture of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. Rahul Prakash, a XII stan­dard stu­dent and a vol­un­teer with Delhi non-profit Uday Foun­da­tion, says: “This (Atta Maggi) ad is like surrogacy. They are just try­ing to sell the pack in the name of health. Pro­mot­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cise when chil­dren are ad­dicted to in-house games is just a mask.”

The tar­get au­di­ence in such ad­ver­tise­ments is moth­ers of young chil­dren. Deepti Patil, mother of two, now gives Maggi Atta noo­dles to her chil­dren be­cause she thinks it is health­ier. “My chil­dren are fond of Maggi and eat it at least four times a week,” she says.

Nes­tle’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for call­ing the prod­uct healthy is that it matches in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. “codex guide­lines that are fol­lowed in­ter­na­tion­ally re­quire 3 gm di­etary

fi­bre per 100 gm as ad­e­quate thresh­hold.We state on the pack that Maggi Veg­etable Atta Noo­dles con­tains 5.3 gm of di­etary fi­bre per 100 gm (of the noo­dles) and the fssai-ac­cred­ited lab­o­ra­tory has con­firmed that the prod­ucts tested by them con­tained more than the de­clared fi­bre value,” said Nes­tle in an email re­sponse to Down To Earth.

But while atta noo­dles might be health­ier than white flour noo­dles, they are not a healthy diet. A 2012 study by Con­sumer Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search Cen­tre (cerc), a non­profit work­ing on con­sumer rights, showed that atta noo­dles are among the high­est sodium-con­tain­ing in­stant noo­dles. “The devil lies in the tastemaker. Most of the salt con­tent is in the sea­son­ing. Flavour en­hancers are un­healthy too,” says Pri­tee Shah, chief gen­eral man­ager of cerc in Ahmed­abad.

The cerc study also found that fat in atta noo­dles was ac­tu­ally 17 per cent against 13.4 per cent claimed on the packet. “Th­ese peo­ple are shift­ing fo­cus from healthy to some­thing marginally bet­ter than the worst, like white flour prod­ucts,” adds Shah.

Junk food has other harm­ful in­gre­di­ents too. For in­stance, Maggi noo­dles are high in not just sodium, but car­bo­hy­drates and food ad­di­tives as well, and low on es­sen­tial el­e­ments like fi­bre, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als. Atta noo­dles, de­spite claims, are no ex­cep­tion. “The com­mer­cials cre­ate the im­pres­sion that fat and calo­ries are the only prob­lems with junk food and ex­er­cis­ing can solve the is­sue. But junk food con­tains harm­ful con­tents,” says Ashim Sanyal, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of con­sumer mag­a­zine voice.

In the US, the Coca Cola com­mer­cial has pro­voked out­rage. Pub­lic health ac­tivists there called it a tac­tic to score brownie points in the name of pro­mot­ing a healthy life­style. “A 12-ounce (350 ml) bot­tle of Coca Cola pro­vides about 140 calo­ries. Coca-Cola would like you to think that 140 calo­ries is triv­ial to com­pen­sate for with phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. But those calo­ries come with no nu­tri­tional value and should be thought of as candy in liq­uid form,” says Mar­ion Nes­tle, pro­fes­sor of nu­tri­tion, food stud­ies and pub­lic health at New York Univer­sity.

Link­ing health and nu­tri­tion with junk food has, how­ever, be­come a ne­ces­sity for the in­dus­try if it has to sur­vive.In the US, sales in the soda in­dus­try are al­ready on the de­cline in the last few years.They fell by 3 per cent in 2013, com­pared to a de­cline of 1.2 per cent the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to Bev­er­age Di­gest, a trade pub­li­ca­tion in the US.

“Com­pa­nies like Nes­tle and Coca-Cola are des­per­ate to dis­tract at­ten­tion away from their un­healthy prod­ucts by pre­tend­ing that ex­er­cise is the so­lu­tion to a poor diet,” says Michele Si­mon, pres­i­dent of a US food in­dus­try watch­dog Eat Drink Pol­i­tics. “Sci­ence shows that ex­er­cise can­not coun­ter­act eat­ing junk food. Such ads only serve to con­fuse the is­sue and make the junk food com­pa­nies look good,” she adds.

Shock­ing test

Another cat­e­gory of prod­ucts mis­lead­ing con­sumers with claims of healthy food is di­ges­tive bis­cuits. voice con­ducted a test on four types of such bis­cuits—An­mol Te­jus Di­ges­tive, Bri­tan­nia Nutri Choice, Hor­licks Nutribic and McVi­tie’s Di­ges­tive.The prod­ucts were tested for to­tal fat, sat­u­rated fat, sugar and salt con­tent against the stan­dards set by Food Stan­dards Agency of the UK.

All bis­cuits were found un­de­sir­able for sat­u­rated fat and sugar, three were neu­tral for to­tal fat while one was un­de­sir­able. Only Hor­licks fell in the cat­e­gory of de­sir­able for salt, which means it had a salt con­tent of less than 0.3 gm per 100 gm.

Need for stricter laws

In In­dia, the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Coun­cil of In­dia, a self-reg­u­la­tory vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion of the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, re­ceives max­i­mum com­plaints un­der the per­sonal and health­care cat­e­gory.In June this year,46 of 124 com­plaints fell in this cat­e­gory alone. In all, 84 of the com­plaints, in­clud­ing Nada Maida, were up­held by the coun­cil.

Cur­rently there is no mech­a­nism to pre­vent mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tise­ments in In­dia. “The man­u­fac­tur­ers have to only abide by the pro­vi­sions made in Sec­tions 24,52,53 of the Food Safety and Stan­dards Act. The pro­vi­sions are broad and generic, so ad­ver­tis­ers/ man­u­fac­tur­ers are get­ting away with all types of false claims,” says Shah.

“We are de­mand­ing that if an ad is ob­jec­tion­able and makes mis­lead­ing claims, then the celebri­ties en­dors­ing it should also be held re­spon­si­ble,” she says. Ac­tivists also sug­gest that if a com­mer­cial is found mis­lead­ing, then the company should be asked to run a cor­rected ad for as much time and space as it ran the pre­vi­ous one. “Right now, com­pa­nies are only asked to with­draw the ob­jec­tion­able ad,” Shah adds.

The gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to amend the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act, 1986, to es­tab­lish a con­sumer pro­tec­tion au­thor­ity. It will take ac­tion against mis­lead­ing ads.


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