India is “sitting on a volcano” of diabetes. A father’s effort to ban junk food sales in and near schools aims to change what children eat.
NEW DELHI — Rahul Verma’s son was born gravely ill with digestive problems, but over years of visits to the boy’s endocrinologist, Mr. Verma saw the doctor grow increasingly alarmed about a different problem, one threatening healthy children. Junk food, the doctor warned, was especially dangerous to Indians, who are far more prone to diabetes than people from other parts of the world.
One day in the doctor’s waiting room, Mr. Verma noticed a girl who had gotten fat by compulsively eating potato chips. He decided he had to do something.
“On one side you have children like my son, who are born with problems,” said Mr. Verma, “and on the other side you have children who are healthy and everything is fine and you are damaging them giving them unhealthy food.”
Mr. Verma, who had no legal training, sat late into the nights with his wife, Tullika, drafting a petition in their tiny apartment, which was bedecked with fairy lights and pictures of the god Ganesh, who is believed to overcome all obstacles. He filed the public interest lawsuit in the Delhi High Court in 2010, seeking a ban on the sale of junk food and soft drinks in and around schools across India.
Mr. Verma with his son, Uday, who needed many surgeries to survive congenital birth defects. Uday’s struggles inspired Mr. Verma to help children born healthy combat the risks associated with a diet of junk food.
The case has propelled sweeping, court-ordered regulations of the food industry to the doorstep of the Indian government, where they have languished. They have outsize importance in India, population 1.3 billion, because its people are far more likely to develop diabetes — which can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputations — as they gain weight than people from other regions, according to health experts.