In India obesity is growing at an unprecedented rate and it has been a major factor in the rising burden of non-communicable disease that has affected nearly two-thirds of the population. Childhood obesity is reaching alarming proportions with India reporting around 22% prevalence rate over the last 5 years in children and adolescents aged between 5-19 years.
India is under siege: junk food, alcohol and sedentary lifestyle are leading us to silent self-destruction, making one in every five Indian men and women either obese or overweight. The idea of publicizing yoga by our Prime Minister doesn’t sound too appalling now, does it?
Vowing to combat the rising levels of obesity, the state of Kerala recently imposed a 14.5% Fat Tax on fast food sold by branded restaurants. The move is being hailed as an important (if brief) step towards maintaining public health and a soar in the deteriorating standards of fitness in our country. Since maneuvering the mindset of people at large might not give fruitful results, looking for fiscal routes to curb their expenses on fast food is definitely needed. Health should be the primary agenda for every government. The increasing number of overweight and obese people in the community and the resulting burden of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCD) necessitate systematic nutrition interventions on a massive scale.
We are the world capital of diabetes mellitus, thin-fat metabolism and atherosclerotic coronary heart disease, thus, demonizing fast food might just help. While a Fat Tax as a model is a good beginning, for it to be a success in totality, a mindset change to shift to healthier eating patterns is the key.
Though the tax is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be comprehensive and acceptable to all the stakeholders. In the process of putting the entire blame on fast food, we are forgetting the major source of our trans-fat, the much cherished samosas, pakoras and aloo tikki.
Will the Fat Tax be effective as long as the Indian traditional foods, which are rich in trans-fat and complex carbohydrates than protein, go unregulated or tax-free?
The samosas and pakodas which are easily available in less than ₹20 at every corner and even in locally branded outlets contain 30% trans-fats as compared to the permissible 1%. Eating trans-fats increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Should the state then consider regulating all high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods; roadside stalls or brandy franchises no bar?
More than the health benefits that could accrue, Fat Tax might be a desperate attempt to raise tax revenues that had gone down by an average of 4% in the five years of UDF rule, owing to the crisis in the agricultural sector and the layoffs in Gulf countries that stifled the purchasing power of people.
Earning revenue or not, the intention really doesn’t matter in our country wherein everything as basic as existence is politicized. However, what remains to be seen is whether the Fat Tax a much needed step to curb the rising population of obese people in our country?
While some might argue about the impact created by this step in the short term, there is no doubt that regular intake of junk food results in obesity, diabetes and even cardiovascular diseases as various studies have shown.
Let us hope that much more than challenging the budget of people, the Fat Tax imposed by Kerala manages to wake the majority of population from its deep and prolonged slumber. A slumber which manifests itself with diabetes, chronic heart diseases and an unhealthy lifestyle.