In India nutrition labeling is being made compulsory on all packed foods presumably to enable the consumer to understand the value of food purchased or to have multiple options in buying any food in the market. However what is not clear is how many consumers can understand the significance of nutrients like proteins, sodium, potassium, trans fats, dietary fiber or carbohydrates, all of which have important roles to play in maintaining good health. Some awareness seems to be existing regarding cholesterol though many have little clue regarding the exact implications of this component on human health. Many misapprehensions exist regarding bad effects of consuming oils like that from coconut and palm fruits, many falsely imagining they are rich sources of cholesterol. There are so many other misapprehensions and erroneous beliefs that will be difficult to erase unless nutrition education becomes an integral part of formal childhood education system. While positive aspects of nutrition is slowly gaining attention at some of the educational institutions, the importance of hygiene and sanitation also needs to stressed to prevent negative consequences of infection and infestation of foods.
Association of Food Scientists and Technologists(India), during their annual Convention in Hyderabad in 2006 made a beginning with assistance from UNICEF in experimenting with a model for educating children from rural areas regarding the concepts of nutrition and food but it was not pursued further to evolve a national consensus for organizing programs on a wider scale. Country is not short of experts and surely they will be willing to contribute intellectually to put in place a practical education program right from the first grade level. Education being a state subject, it is imperative that the program is made in consultation with the authorities there if to be implemented all over the country. NCERT also needs to be roped in as the educationists in this organization have lot of expertize and experience in the field.
Industry can work at a different level to educate the parents who after all have great influence on the behavior of their children. It may be too much to expect that industry would abandon their business for the sake of education but an enlightened parent is always a better client to appreciate the quality and safety of the foods the industry produces and markets. A simple way to spread nutrition information is to introduce slogans that will catch the notice of the consumers and remind them often, becoming a part of their day to day activities. How can this be done? Many foods are packed in cartons and the outside is invariably printed attractively carrying essential information on the contents. However inside of the carton presents a great opportunity for the industry to print information regarding nutrition and the design should be such that consumers will keep them at least for some time for the message to sink in. Or calendar type cards can be included in the pack containing such information. Industry can also create separate sections on nutrition in their web sites highlighting nutritional information. Same is true with commercial advertisements where at least one or two fundamental messages can be included. There are so many other ways of putting across messages targeting the consumers and over a period of time greater awareness is generated amongst the population.
Industry associations like AIFPA, PFNDAI, etc, food technology professionals in AFST(I), IDA, etc, nutritionists from organizations like Nutrition Society, Society of Biochemists, NIN etc, representatives from Health Ministry and Food Processing Ministry(MFPI) administrators can make the above possible if a concerted effort is made. Years ago when the MFPI was born, one of the priority areas was promotion of processed foods though nothing concrete has been done during the last two decades of its existence. It is better late than never and this is the time for earnest action to achieve universal nutritional literacy in the country.