Bournvita row: Sugar content level in the popular health drink raises concern – Here’s what experts say

In a now-deleted video, Revant explained that Bournvita uses ingredients that, if consumed on a daily basis, could lead to diabetes.

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The company claimed that its product contains ‘vitamins A, C, D, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium which help build immunity’. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Bournvita has become a household name over the years. Since its development in the 1920s, the chocolate malt drink is being marketed as a health drink. Manufactured by Cadbury, a subsidiary of Mondelez International, it is sold in the United Kingdom and North America, as well as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.

Recently, a social media influencer, Revant Himatsingka, who goes by the username Food Pharmer has triggered a row after he revealed some “hidden facts” about the ingredients list marketed by Cadbury.

What is the controversy around Bournvita?

In a now-deleted video, Revant explained that Bournvita uses ingredients that, if consumed on a daily basis, could lead to diabetes. The social media influencer also claimed that one of the ingredients, which is a colouring agent, used in the making of the product causes cancer.

“The tagline of Bournvita is ‘taiyari jeet ki’ but rather, it should be ‘taiyari diabetes ki’,” he said in the video. Soon after the video went viral, Revant shared a post on his Instagram detailing how he has issued an apology to the company and never meant to malign them. In the post, he mentioned that he received a legal notice.

“I have decided to take down the (Bournvita) video after receiving a legal notice from one of India’s biggest law firms on 13 April. I apologise to Cadbury for making the video. I did not plan or intend to infringe any trademark or defame any company nor do I have the interest or resources to participate in any court cases and I request MNCs to not take this forward legally.” Revant wrote.

Reportedly, the video had received 12 million views on Instagram by the time it was taken down under pressure.

Following this, the Mondelez India-owned health drink brand released a statement rejecting such claims.

The company stated the claims made by the influencer, who took down the video after being served a legal notice, are “unscientific” as he “distorted facts and made false and negative inferences”. Himatsingka claims to be a nutritionist and a health coach.

The video was widely shared by netizens including actor-politician Paresh Rawal and former cricketer and MP Kirti Azad. The whole episode has triggered a dabate on whether Bournvita should be marketed as a health drink.

What is Bournvita’s take on the matter?

In a statement shared over e-mail, a spokesperson of Bournvita told Financial that over the last seven decades, “Bournvita has earned the trust of consumers in India by being a scientifically formulated product that adheres to the highest quality standards and complies with all the laws of the land.”

“That is why we were concerned by a recent unscientific video on social media that went abnormally viral, distorted facts and made false and negative inferences about Bournvita’s safety and efficacy. The Presenter’s comments are not based on science and were designed to drive anxiety and fear among our loyal consumers by misrepresenting the facts and omitting factually correct information to sensationalize his view,” the spokesperson said.

The company also claimed that the video has created panic and anxiety and “questions the trust that consumers have bestowed on brands like Bournvita.”

“As we continued to witness an abnormal and unusual amount of traction on the post, we were constrained to take legal recourse to avoid misinformation. We also issued a statement to clarify and share the correct facts to allay the concerns of our consumers. We would like to clarify that we had no play in actions around the presenter’s Twitter account,” the spokesperson told Financial

All our claims are verified and transparent and all ingredients have regulatory approvals. All the necessary nutritional information is mentioned on the pack for consumers to make informed choices, the spokesperson said.

The company also claimed that Bournvita is best consumed with a glass of 200 ml hot or cold milk as highlighted on the pack. Every serve of 20 gm of Bournvita has 7.5 grams of added sugar, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons. This is much less than the daily recommended intake limits of sugar for children, the spokesperson added.

Bournvita contains nutrients namely Vitamin A, C, D, B12, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium which supports the immune system. These have been part of our formulation and we have always called out “Helps with healthy functioning of the immune system” on the back of our pack for several years (even before the Covid-19 pandemic), the spokesperson said.

“Caramel Colour (150 C) is within permissible limits as per guidelines defined by regulations. All ingredients are safe, approved for use and within permissible limits as per the regulatory guidelines,” the spokesperson said.

‘Misleading the consumers with fake claims’

After Revant’s video and his claims came under the spotlight, Consumer Voice, a Voluntary Action Group of Academicians, Professionals and Volunteers who work relentlessly to raise awareness amongst Indian consumers, wrote to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Consumer Affairs Department.

“The entire episode of misleading the consumers with fake claims by popular brands has been reported many times to concerned offices. Brands loaded with high salt, sugar and saturated fats making tall claims shamelessly as healthy foods or supplements for specially children and elderly under the shadow of the declaration at the back of the pack can only be addressed if Front of Pack Warning labels is put informing consumers about the health harms. Only consumer awareness can address the issue with a strong FOPL Regulation,” Ashim Sanyal, COO, Consumer Voice, told Financial

What is the recommended level of sugar for children?

According to Dr Amish Vora, Pediatrician and Neonatal Intensivist at Bhatia Hospital Mumbai, children between the age of 2 to 18 years should have less than 6 teaspoons of sugar or 24 gms of sugar. Meanwhile, Children less than 2 years should not have any added sugar.

“This is because a lot of children now are obese, have type 2 diabetes. Young adults are having heart disease and heart problems with a lot of chronic and allergic conditions coming to children when they grow up. It is important to restrict them from eating a lot of processed food, carbonated and sugary drinks unless it is being medically prescribed by the doctor. It is best to avoid over the counter products since they contain high sugar content,” Dr. Vora told Financial

Dr. Vora also revealed that most of the carbonated drinks have 10 gms of sugar per 100 ml, and since the consumption would be more than 100 ml, the sugar content increases. Some of the carbonated drinks go up to 15 gms of sugar as well, he revealed.

“Health drinks in India claim to provide nutrition and energy, but they tend to give us energy in the form of empty calories primarily from simple starches and sugar which are not a healthy choice, especially for children and adults who have an obesity problem. Simple starches and sugars are known to cause obesity and obesity, as we know, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and hypertension,” Dr Paparao Nadakuduru, Sr. Consultant Physician & HOD – Internal Medicine, Citizens Specialty Hospital, Hyderabad​​ told Financial

Dr. Nadakuduru maintained that such drinks must be avoided by people who have lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes etc.

“Again, these may also contain gluten and lactose from milk solids, which should be avoided by people with gluten or lactose intolerance. Basically, it’s the high sugar content in such drinks that makes it detrimental to the health of children and youth,” Dr. Nadakuduru revealed.

According to Dr. Edwina Raj, Head – of Clinical Nutrition Dietetics, Aster CMI Hospital, four teaspoons of health drink supplement contains between 1g to 6.5g of sugar(1.2tsp) in most of the leading brands which are available over the counter.

“As claimed this is no doubt within the recommended amount of calories (<10%) from sugar as per WHO guidelines for a healthy child to ensure that they do not indulge in high intake of simple sugars that increases the risk of obesity and chronic diseases. But the incidences of childhood obesity is in the rise and sugar intake is one of the reasons for weight gain. A child will not stop at this health drink but continue to indulge in sugar beverages , jams, spreads , candies, jellies , cakes, biscuits , ketchups ,etc which are also the sources of sugar,” Dr. Raj told Financial

Dr. Raj emphasises that one cannot eliminate this completely in a child’s diet as they are completely exposed to it , hence portion size is the key rather than eliminating it completely which later increases their craving towards it.

“As nutritionists we should help parents explore other options rather than focusing only on foods to eliminate since parents are already frustrated with child’s unhealthy eating habits,” she added.

Are Health Supplements Needed?

Dr. Raj pointed out that only a nutritionist will be able to assess your child’s current nutrient intake and will prescribe supplements if necessary based on the deficit of nutrients in daily food intake which will ensure nutritional adequacy and prevents deficiencies or toxicities of such supplements.

“Every Health drink or supplement varies in composition and consists of both benefits and downside of additives in them. They are also loaded with carbohydrate between 12-17g in 4tsp of supplement which when added to milk is equivalent to one serving of cereal / chapathi consumed for breakfast. Therefore this needs to be considered while planning a child’s daily meal to ensure we do not go overboard in feeding them which will increase the risk of being overweight and prone to lifestyle diseases,” she added.

She also warned that we are surrounded by multiple products with nutrition labels and lengthy claims but it is equally important for every consumer to understand that no claims should be blindly accepted.

“…rather, it is imperative to seek healthcare professionals, understand one s health condition and get a nutrition prescription accordingly from a Registered Dietitian,” Dr. Raj added.

According to Dr Shreya Dubey – Consultant – Neonatology & Paediatrics, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, if parents are looking for health supplements for their children, they should make sure, that the supplements don’t consist of much sugar. The sugar intake of the child must be balanced and should be within amount of the overall daily diet.

“It is partially true that health drinks which are supplements taken alongside with milk or water, contain calories, proteins, minerals, micro-nutrients, and vitamins, are only given to children who are under weight or children who are very fussy,” Dr. Dubey told Financial

Dr. Dubey also maintained that if the child is fine and can properly grow then the supplements are not necessary.

“Health supplements do have all the nutrients but also come packed with a lot of hidden sugar which if taken by children in a lot of amount can cause obesity, cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes. Therefore, children who are recommended to take these supplements by a paediatrician are only advised to take. There is no study that states that these supplements cause cancer, but if the child has a high sugar consumption and is even taking these health drinks, then due to sugar-surplus, there can be a chance of cancer in later years,” Dr. Dubey added.

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First published on: 18-04-2023 at 16:20 IST