Unhealthy junk food harming children’s health

PESHAWAR   -   Unaware that an excessive pocket money regularly paid to granddaughter for school would be used for unhealthy junk food and land her to hospital, Riazul Haq is seen pushing the stretcher-trolly to quickly shift Anaya Bibi to operation theater in the government hospital Pabbi Nowshera for prompt medical care.

Sitting on a steel-chair outside of the operation theater with stretched hands praying for her successful surgery, Riaz said she was complaining about the piles, stomach pain and irritable bowel syndrome for the last two weeks due to an excessive eating of unhealthy junk foods including shawarma, samosa, chips and snacks being sold unchecked openly in front of schools, shops and markets in villages and towns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Called her Gorya (doll), he said the piles, irritable bowel syndrome and obesity problems diagnosed by doctors citing overeating of an expired chickens mostly used in shawarma, chicken rolls, chips, snacks, burgers besides low fat yogurt and cheese, high carbohydrate fatty food along with beverages and operated immediately.

Like Anaya, thousands of school children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were exposed to unhealthy junk foods being sold openly outside of educational institutions, villages and cities which are adversely affecting their health.

Abundance of such shops and vendors foods stalls could be seen at historic Qissa Khwani bazaar, Namak Mandai, Karimpura, Charsadda Road, Faqirabad, Hastnagri, Tehkal, Board bazaar, Lateeef Abad, Hayatabad, Warsak Road, Dalazak Road, Chamkani and other localities selling unsafe cuisines and expired foods, exposing many to different diseases including obesity, overweight, piles and stomach disorders.

Dr Malik Riaz Khan, Principal Medical Officer and Head of Children Ward, Government Hospital Pabbi Nowshera said that Pakistan like other countries is also confronted with the monster challenge of overweight, piles and obesity mostly contracted by children excessively consuming unhygienic and substandard food.

Declaring obesity, piles and overweight mostly caused by eating unhygienic and substandard fast food was the fifth leading cause of global deaths; he said that obesity attributes 60-70% deaths besides non-communicable diseases in the world including Pakistan.

Dr Malik Riaz while referring to a WHO report said that the number of children aged five to 19 with obesity has increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 in the world including Pakistan due to consumption of excessive unhealthy junk food during school time.

Terming obesity a salient killer, he said that about 30 percent of the world population was overweight while 44 percent of the burden of diabetes, 23 percent of heart diseases and seven to 41 percent of certain cancers was attributed to being overweight and obesity.

He said Pakistan has ranked 10th out of 188 countries with about 50 percent population being overweight or obese, and according to World Obesity Foundation report, about 5.4 million school-aged children in our country would be obese by 2030 if the unchecked open sale and manufacturing of unsafe food including chips and snacks continued with such a high rate in markets including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Dr Riaz while referring to Pakistan Health Commission Report 2018 said that about 11 percent of children in the country were suffering from overweight and more than five percent of obesity while data compiled from hospitals revealed that 40 percent to 50 percent of children were either overweight or obese that was quite alarming and health policy makers need to take prompt measures for its prevention.

The lack of attention to children’s food needs, publicity of substandard foods on mushroom growth of digital and social media, limited sports events and its unchecked sale at union council and village levels had largely contributed to the rise of obesity cases in KP.

While recommending daily exercises and a healthy balanced diet besides sports, he said that sale of substandard shawarma, chicken rolls, potato chips and beverages needs to be regulated and unsafe foods including harmful sugary drinks and high calories should be banned to protect our loved ones from fatal diseases.

Khan Ghalib, Spokesman of KP Food Safety and Halal Food Authority (KPFS&HFA) told APP that operation against unsafe and substandard food has been accelerated across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where over 136,690 inspections conducted and 539,982 kilograms and litres of substandard food items discarded last year.

Thousands of litres of counterfeit beverages and adulterated milk were discarded after its detailed examination being not safe for human consumption. He said zero tolerance has been adopted against elements involved in sale and purchase of adulterated food items in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said mobile food testing laboratories were established in all divisional headquarters with latest technology testing’s equipment with an ability to test over 20 food items instantly. These labs cover a range of food tests, including testing of milk, flour, edible oil, ghee, water, and other food items on the spot. He said the government has planned to establish such labs in all districts of the province.

Set up under the KP Food Safety Authority Act of 2014, the authority had hired volunteers to monitor food safety and quality, working alongside regular staff in the field for prompt action. He said KP Food Authority, operating under the province’s Health Department, is the second such regulatory body in the country after Punjab set up its Food Authority in 2011.

The spokesperson urged people to inform the authority in case of selling expired or substandard food items by the restaurants or hotels so that strict action could be taken against them.

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