Bournvita controversy: Doctors, scientists come out in support of influencer who outed the brand

Nearly 50 percent of Cadbury's Bournvita — sold as a health drink — is total sugar and this fact was highlighted by Revant Himatsingka in a video.

BySumit Jha

Published Apr 19, 2023 | 9:30 AMUpdatedApr 19, 2023 | 9:30 AM

Scientists and doctors are digging out more information and studies on Bournvita and other such products, and have started to publish it on their social media platforms. (Supplied)

After a social media influencer who had spoken up about the amount of sugar in Bournvita was forced to remove his post when it went viral, food scientists and doctors are now slamming the brand and coming out in support of the influencer.

Revant Himatsingka, who is known as FoodPharmer on Instagram where he has over 1.3 lakh followers, had shared an Instagram Reels calling out Cadbury for advertising Bournvita as a “health drink”, despite its high sugar content.

In the video, he questioned Cadbury — the manufacturer of Bournavita — for the drink’s “nutritional value” and said that the brand’s tagline “taiyari jeet ki” should be changed to “tayyari diabetes ki”.

Along with the video, he had put up the caption, “Should the government allow companies to blatantly lie on their package? Parents are getting their children addicted to sugar at a young age and the children end up craving sugar throughout their lives.”

The video went viral and crossed over 12 million views before it had to be deleted.

Also Read: WHO advises against too much salt in your diet

Cadbury’s clarification

Later, Cadbury released a statement on the matter.

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


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Cadbury Bournvita (@cadburybournvita)

Later, on 13 April, in a statement, Himatsingka said that he had received a legal notice from Cadbury to take down the video.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Revant Himatsingka (@foodpharmer)

However, since then, scientists and doctors have been digging out more information and studies on Bournvita and other such products, and have started to publish it on their own social media platforms.

Also Read: All about ‘lifestyle prescriptions’ in treating diabetes

Scientists and doctors hit out

Shashi Iyengar, a metabolic health coach, said that the concept of “health drinks” has been implanted in us from an early stage of life. Aggressive marketing, with celebrities pushing it, has given a magical aura around it and even he has taken these as a kid.

“Some punch lines used: ‘__ is the secret of my energy’, ’Tyaari Jeet ki’, ‘Strong bones. Strong muscles, Active brain’, ‘Taller, stronger, sharper’, ‘Immunity booster’. Do we really need these with tall unproven claims? A glass of full fat milk is better. We don’t need these sugary junks,” he tweeted.

Dr Cyriac Abby Philips — clinician-scientist popularly known by his Twitter handle TheLiverDoc — in a tweet said that the product claimed improved brain activity, improved muscles, improved immune system, and improved bone health.

But, “all of these require empirical evidence for confirmation”, he said in the tweet.

He further said that Cadbury has made a statement that they have designed the product scientifically, which means there must be published studies backing their claims.

Also Read: Are weight-losing diets harmful to the functioning of kidneys?

He said that the studies which he found say otherwise.

  1. A study showed that caffeine content in Bournvita was higher than other similar cocoa-based products.
  2. Pregnant women in Nigeria avoided Bournvita due to fear of developing “big babies” and complicated labour/delivery.
  3. Another study showed that Bournvita product changes colour due to inherent changes in pH due to its “sugary” content.
  4. The last paper he came across was: “Critics say UNICEF-Cadbury partnership is mere sugarwashing.”

“Basically, the claims of scientific methods or studies and the scientific evidence for everything that is written on the Bournvita product is not backed by good evidence and, thus, Cadbury’s claims are misleading on muscle and bone growth, immunity enhancement and brain development — there are no controlled studies to show the same,” he said.

He explained that, considering the high sugar content of 71 percent in Bournvita, per serve 20 g has 14.2 g of sugar, which is approximately 57 percent of recommended upper daily limit. This will only increase if more milk is added or if additional sugar is used over the day.

“Hence, the ‘claim’ that using the product as advised is safe is also a misleading one,” he said. He opineed that big food pharma must come with empirical evidence rather than muscle tactics to prove a point.

“Herbalife did the same with me when I highlighted the death of a young woman after consuming Herbalife products,” he said.

He added that the motto of the FMCG industry is, “Protect the business at any cost, call out and persecute the whistleblowers, and keep the consumers ignorant, all the while throwing them under the bus.”

Also Read: How many nuts does one eat per day? Learn all about nuts!

Nutrition advocacy group pitches in

Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi) — a national think-tank on nutrition — comprising independent experts in epidemiology, human nutrition, community nutrition, pediatrics, medical education, administration and management, has also come out in support of the influencer.

NAPi, in its statement, said that there is enough scientific evidence present in the public domain pertaining to the negative impact of increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) — which Bournvita falls under — on human health. This includes several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression (non-communicable diseases).

“More than 60 percent of deaths that happen in India are due to non-communicable diseases and overconsumption of UPFs is attributed to be one of the major reasons,” said NAPi in a statement.

It further added that the aggressive marketing of UPFs drives the increasing consumption of UPFs, leading to unhealthy and unsustainable diets replacing real foods globally. India is rapidly rising in consumption of UPFs too.

“The claims by the company are vague and do not showcase or share any scientific evidence which could be referred to and reviewed by the public health scientists. Unfairly targeting someone who did a public service is condemned,” said NAPi.

It said that NAPi stands by Revant Himatsingka for speaking facts on the nutritional information of the product Bournvita that it is high in total sugar — 49.8 g of total sugar per 100 g.

Finally, NAPi believes that advertisements of Bournvita are misleading and filed a formal complaint to the Department of Consumers Affairs of the Union government about its recent advertisement which, it alleged, violated provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Also Read: Flak for FSSAI and its food rating proposal

Need for government intervention

After the removal of his video and people coming in support of Revant, the chairman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Priyank Kanoongo has also come out in support and has said that he will look into the matter.

FSSAI’s nutrition labelling

On the other hand, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has put out a draft and is considering implementing a symbol-based front-of-pack nutrition labelling (FONPL).

Even studies suggest that the need of the hour is to put the information on the packets of food products in simple signs to inform people about food quality.

There is a need to bring out this method of labeling as it is the need of the hour,” ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition scientist Dr Subba Rao M Gavaravarap told South First.

He is also the member of the FSSAI committee which is looking to implement FOPNL.

Also Read: Study suggests Nutri-Score is preferred front-of-pack label, experts differ