For the first time in India, the Kerala government plans to impose a “fat tax” of 14.5% on branded food chains and restaurants selling food like pizzas, burgers etc.
The announcement has evoked strong reactions.
Some have dismissed it a meaningless move that will not help achieve the stated goal of reducing the consumption of junk food and cutting down obesity-related illnesses. Others have called it yet another excuse to tax the middle and high-income groups.
The argument in favour of such a tax in Kerala is compelling. National Family Health Survey figures show that after Punjab, Kerala has the second highest number of people suffering from obesity.
How far the fat tax will change this scenario, only time will tell. There is no denying, however, that the move has helped focus attention to the growing epidemic of obesity and lifestyle diseases in India.
As the 2016 Global Nutrition Report highlights, the number of overweight or obese people is rising everywhere, leading to a spike in diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases. One in 12 people worldwide have diabetes while nearly two million are obese or overweight.
Some health experts in Karnataka are calling for the state government to follow Kerala’s move and impose a fat tax as well. But they are asking for the tax to be extended to Indian snacks and foods like puris, bhajiyas and namkeen as well. Experts also say that while the tax can change behaviour by pushing people towards healthier options, tacking obesity calls for a larger behaviour change that can only be achieved through greater awareness of nutrition and healthy routines.