In an attempt to counter the rising incidence of obesity and many other lifestyle diseases, the Kerala government has decided to impose a 14.5 pc tax on junk food and drinks sold in the state. An announcement to this effect was made by the Finance Minister of the south Indian state, along with other reforms proposed in the new budget. .
The tax, dubbed as a “fat tax” will arguably impact the lovers of unhealthy junk food lovers in the state as food items such as burgers, pizza, pasta, doughnuts and sandwiches sold at branded restaurants and various delivery chains are going to cost higher in face of this new proposal. The food served at joints such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut etc. are to be taxed as the government seems to be concerned about the impact on the weight and health of the individual consuming them resulting in health hazards like obesity.
Health conscious Kerala
Kerala is the first state in India to introduce such a tax. India is seeing growing levels of obesity in the past decade and despite this upsetting trend, weight and lifestyle management has not been an area of concern for most states in India. Taxes for alcohol and cigarettes have been in place and gradually increase with time, mainly to discourage citizens from choosing unhealthy consumption patterns that are harmful for the physical health of an individual and consequently the society. General well being measures are being promoted by the central government through a systematic promotion of yoga as a form of exercise as well as lifestyle and the workings of the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) created in 2014 are also aimed at modifying lifestyles and patterns of food consumption.
However, concerns that grow with the rising levels of obesity have not been adequately taken into consideration while framing public policy and laws, thus making the proposal of fat tax a very welcome one. Obesity poses an immediate threat due to a number of diseases associated with it- heart disease, respiratory problems, infertility and menstrual irregularities, to name a few.
Gujarat might follow Kerala
The state government in Gujarat, a western state in India, is considering the possibility of imposing a fat tax similar to that of Kerala in an attempt to deter the consumption of junk food as well as increase the revenue for preventive healthcare measures. This proposed tax, if approved, could be announced in next year’s budget.
Europe’s effort to curb junk food intake
The concept of fat tax remains controversial as a concept and there are many who believe that it is an ineffective way to control the lifestyle choices of consumers. Since the first country known to introduce the tax was Denmark, withdrew it within a year after it was put in place, scepticism remains. However, despite its failures in the specific case, different countries across the globe have imposed restrictions and taxes on food items and beverages that are known to have a direct effect on increase in weight and have unhealthy fat as their constituents. Thus, sugary drinks, pre packaged sweetened products, candies confectionaries and a majority of junk food are considered under a special tax bracket and countries such as Hungary, France and Finland have adopted such reforms in order to curb or limit the intake of unhealthy items.
Whether the fat tax proposed will have a major impact or whether the tax will be largely ineffective, only time can tell, but one can only hope that it turns out to be a positive step towards managing the problem and sets a precedent for all other Indian states to follow.