Islamabad - The ministry of National Health Services (NHS) on Tuesday requested the federal and provincial education ministers to impose a ban on sale of soft drinks and junk food near the premises of educational institutions. The statement issued said that the federal minister for NHS Aamer Mehmood Kiani has requested the federal minister for education and provincial education ministers for KPK, Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan to ban the sale and supply of sugary drinks to educational institutions. The letter said that shopkeepers, canteens and drink corners should not be established within 100 meters of educational institutions. In his letter, the health minister informed that Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, are collectively responsible for almost 68% of all deaths in Pakistan.

 In Pakistan, NCDs are causing 51% of total burden of diseases, mostly in younger age groups. “This has resulted in significant burden on the socio-economic status of our population and has increased the cost of our health care delivery system across the country,” said the letter.  He highlighted that Pakistan is obligated to achieve the targets set in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was stated in the letter that under target 3.4, Pakistan has to reduce one third premature mortality from NCDs, by 2030. Simple cost effective measures could reduce the burden of NCDs, including incorporating exercise in the daily routine, having a balanced diet by decreasing junk food consumption, decreased intake of sugar and salt in everyday cooking and decreasing tobacco use. According to World Health Organization (WHO), over-consumption of sugar is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Sugary drinks are a major source of sugar in the diet, and its consumption is increasing in most countries, especially amongst children and adolescents.

Apart from diabetes, obesity is a major risk factor for heart diseases, cancers and other diseases. National Diabetes Survey of Pakistan 2016-17 revealed that more than 26 percent of the country’s population, 27.4 million people over the age of 20, are suffering from type 2 diabetes and 14.47 percent are at risk of getting diabetes. Discouraging use of sugar rich diet ties in with Pillar 3 of the National Health Vision, 2025 that focuses on introduction of prevention programmes targeting NCDs.

In new recommendations from the American Heart Association, children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, which are equivalent to about 100 calories or 25 grams.

The minister said that banning sale and supply of sugary drinks (drinks with added sugar including carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks)to educational institutions is an effective supply reduction strategy being practiced all over the world.

In Pakistan, Punjab Food Authority and Sindh Food Authority have already banned supply of the drinks to educational institutions, shopkeepers, canteens and drink corners in 100 metres of educational institutions.

Same measures could be taken in Federal Area and other provinces.