There is an unhealthy connection between people who are overweight and the perception of their ‘healthiness’, this being true in both adults and children. Obesity in childhood is a significant problem in developing countries and long recognised in the developed world, where canned drinks that have high concentrations of sugar are seen as detrimental to child health. In a move that we support the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has decided to impose a ban on all types of soft and energy drinks at educational institutions across the entire province from 14th August. School tuck-shops and shops close to schools do brisk business in soft drinks, and the PFA has now issued instructions to the companies that manufacture sweet canned drinks that they are no longer allowed to supply schools. Further and in a move unlikely to be popular with traders and shopkeepers the PFA has also banned drinks manufacturers from supplying soft and energy drinks (which are high in caffeine) to shopkeepers, canteens and ‘drink corners’ within a 100 metres of educational institutions.
These may appear at first sight to be heavy-handed and draconian measures, but there is a looming obesity problem among children in Pakistan which has now been appropriately recognised and Punjab is coming into line with the 120 countries worldwide that impose these restrictions. Several Arab states impose similar restrictions. There is nothing arbitrary about this move, and the PFA Scientific Panel has conducted extensive and detailed research to back it up, and has formed operational teams province-wide to ensure compliance. Nationally, Pakistan has a poor record when it comes to proactive health interventions but in this instance the action is both timely and necessary. Alongside the ban there needs to be a public health education programme that informs parents of the need to limit the intake of high-sugar drinks by their children. There are healthy alternatives and they need to be explored and promoted. Healthy children are not fat, and the initiative needs to be countrywide not only limited to Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2017.