Can a ‘Junk Food Tax’ Work?

Kerala becomes the first state in the country to introduce a ‘fat’ tax on junk food in the country in order to promote healthy eating. This comes in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advocacy of using fiscal tools to promote healthy eating.

While debatable and something that can be construed as a ‘naïve’ prescription for health, we view this as an important health measure undertaken by the state government in response to the rapidly increasing obesity in the state and the country. Lets take a step back and look at the facts and figures as quoted by the Live Mint:

“India has the highest number of obese and overweight people after the US and China, according to a 2015 survey by the Malnutrition Mapping Project, an education and advocacy tool created to map global malnutrition trends by the non-profit Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, in association with the direct-selling company Amway. The percentage of overweight or obese people in most Indian states has doubled in the past decade, according to the 2015-16 National Health Survey. One-third of teenagers in metros—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru—are obese. And 80% of these teenagers will continue to be obese even in adulthood, says Pradeep Chowbey, chairman of the Max Institute of Minimal Access.”

The numbers are alarming and yet, to most the 14.5% “fat tax” on the burgers, tacos, sandwiches, doughnuts and pizzas sold in fast-food restaurants in the state came as a surprise rather than a welcome change.

Can Mumbai handle this healthy option?

While Kerela is the first state in India to impose such a tax, it is a tax that has existed in European countries like Hungary and Denmark. The Danish government introduced the world to the concept of tax on saturated fat in 2011. This was levied on all foods with a saturated fat content above 2.3% (butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and other processed items). The Danish government, however, withdrew the tax just a year later, citing “increasing prices for consumers, increasing companies’ administrative costs and putting Danish jobs at risk”.

Will a ‘fat’ tax work in Mumbai – maybe. Is it needed? – probably yes!

We think that the tax will most definitely help reduce the intake of junk food given the how conscious-minded Mumbaiites are. The city’s fast-paced life is increasingly impacting what we eat and how we feed our children. Pizzas, burgers, fries have become part of daily diets and there is more take-away food compared to home-foods being cooked on a daily basis. According to dietitian and sports nutritionist Deepshikha Agarwal:

“Obesity is at an all-time high in Mumbai and it’s alarming. I have kids at 10 years dealing with diabetes and high obesity-related issues. This comes down to poor eating habits. Fries, burgers and quiches are now becoming more of a convenient option and they are being consumed for lunch and breakfast, too! With life being so fast-paced, people are on the run and tend to take their nutrition for granted.” She added, “It’s high time this tax is levied in Mumbai and not just for junk food but preserved foods, which can be deadly. They are rich in sodium chloride, can cause blood pressure problems, dryness in the eyes, sluggishness and hormonal imbalance, if consumed long-term.”

An adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.

“Junk food satisfies you for a minute. Healthy food satisfies you for life”
The onus of eating healthy and making smart choices is on us.

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