A Father Drafts Petition Against Junk Food

Rahul Verma, 42, quit his job as a corporate marketing executive after his son’s birth in 2006. His son was born with severe digestive problems. Verma realised after years of visits to the boy’s endocrinologist and doctor’s increasing concern about the different problem to the healthy children is Junk food. The doctor warned Junk food is more dangerous to Indians as they are more prone to diabetes than people are from other parts of the world.

One day in the doctor’s waiting room, Verma noticed a girl who has gained weight by compulsively eating potato chips. He decided he had to do something.

Without having any proper legal training Verma, with the help of his wife, started drafting a petition. He filed the public interest lawsuit in Delhi High Court in 2010, seeking a ban on the sale of junk food and soft drinks in and around schools across India.

The case has propelled court-ordered regulations of the food industry to the doorstep of the Indian government, where they have weakened. The petition has great significance in Indian because people are far more likely to develop diabetes — that can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputations — as they gain weight than people from other regions, according to health experts.

Since 1990, the percent of children and adults in India who are overweight or obese has almost tripled to 18.8 percent from 6.4 percent, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The International Diabetes Federation projects that the number of Indians with diabetes will soar to 123 million by 2040 as diets rich in carbohydrates and fat spread to less affluent rural areas. The petition has encountered fierce opposition from the All India Food Processors Association, which counts Coca-Cola India, PepsiCo India and Nestle India as members, as well as, hundreds of other companies.

In early 2015, the food authority in the Health Ministry finally recommended regulations to the court, including some limitations on the sale of junk food around schools. The judge ordered the recommendations carried out within three months. Instead, the food authority appointed yet another committee.

The chief executive of the food authority, Agarwal, insisted his agency is finally ready to start adopting new rules early this year for labelling healthy food with a green light and those high in fat, sugar and salt with a red light.

However, he said taxing junk food and banning it around schools were long-term goals.