Film star Madhuri Dixit in one the ads for Maggi noodles
US First lady Michelle Obama is a celebrity. Not only as US President Barack Obama’s wife, she has also successfully carved out a niche for herself in the international arena. With that image, she could have easily earned tonnes of money by endorsing popular brands, including processed foods.
Michelle Obama instead focused her energies on fighting junk food ads of sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks and fast food aimed at school children. Five years after she launched a nationwide campaign called “Let’s Move!” the US Department of Agriculture had last year phased out junk food advertisements from vending machines in schools across the country. Even billboards of Coke and Pepsi were removed from school eateries. The big retail giant Walmart has promised to reduce salt content in its products by 25 per cent and sugar by 10 per cent.
Childhood obesity is emerging as a huge problem in America with obesity rates among those between 2 and 19 years being as high as 17 per cent.
If Michelle Obama can stand up to fight obesity, which is emerging as the major reason leading to health debacles and even fatalities in the US, I see no reason why Indian celebrities – and that includes film actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Priety Zinta, Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor and cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli to name a few – are not equally concerned and responsive. I agree it is not possible for stars to check the ingredients used, but at least they know what they are repeatedly endorsing is not healthy.
When Madhuri Dixit becomes a brand ambassador for a ‘nutritious’ Magginoodles, she immensely influences the psyche of the modern age mothers. My own neighbor, a young mother, is at ease when she feeds her little son with 2-minute Maggi noodles every other afternoon. She has perhaps reduced the intake after I tried to reason out with her, but still she is comfortable as long as Madhuri Dixit endorses the product. I am sure similar stories abound everywhere, and therefore a celebrity just can’t get away by saying that it is the manufacturer who should be answerable and not the person endorsing it.
An insightful news report in the web magazine Scroll.in (http://scroll.in/article/728525/junk-food-is-feeding-a-malnutrition-epidemic-in-delhis-slums) says it all: “Food is cooked twice at home: rice, roti, dal [mostly masoor since it’s the cheapest], sabzi [mostly potatoes], but never green leafy vegetables or fruit or milk. Meals are interspersed with Maggi, popcorn and a variety of chips, which kill the appetite for a full meal. It isn't just that children like their taste, there is an economic rationale to rely on junk food. A packet of Maggi noodles costs Rs 10 while a meal of rice, dal and vegetables would cost approximately three times that amount.” More consumption of junk foods among children leads to malnutrition and stunted growth. Quoting a CRY study, the report says that 36% children suffer from malnutrition and another 33% are victims of severe acute malnutrition that could lead to abnormalities and even death.
BBC journalist Jeremy Paxmn (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWLQaz8nhQw) shocked the head of Coke Europe in 2013 when he poured sugar sachtes from typical containers of soft drinks that are served in cinema halls to show how consumers unknowingly gulp extremely high levels of sugar while watching films. Each big container carries sugar equal to 44 sachets and the small container has 23 sachets. Although the cola giants have been promising to reduce sugar content, the fact remains that soft drinks are harmful for health. Michelle Obama is therefore right in wanting the school children to remain away from soft drinks. Her campaign is slowly making an impact. At least obesity levels in children between the age of 2 and 5 are coming down in America.
The Maggi controversy has once again brought the focus on celebrity endorsements. I am waiting for the day when more Indian celebrities demonstrate social consciousness like what has been shown by Aamir Khan, Mahesh Bhatt, Shekhar Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut. They can’t remain mere puppets on a financial string. In a country where they are treated like demi gods, they have to take on the bigger role on the lines of Michelle Obama. That’s like a true celebrity.