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Kerala’s Fat Tax

In an attempt to curb the increasing levels of obesity, the southern state of Kerala has introduced a tax called the Fat Tax, which will be targeted at outlets selling junk food such as burgers, pizzas, tacos, doughnuts, sandwiches and pasta which are sold in about 50 to 60 famous branded restaurants in the state.

India is facing opposite trends with regards to food consumption. While the country is known to harbor an undernourished population, the country has seen rising levels of obesity at the same time, more of which is observed in urban areas where ease of access and affordability of fast food has taken over the cooking habits of the population. Although using data form a 2007 state wise survey, the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals published an article in 2012 that ranked the state of Kerala as the second most obese state behind Punjab. It showed that 24% of men and 34% of woman were classified as either overweight or obese.

Presented for the 2016 – 2017 budget, the finance minister of Kerala Thomas Isaac acknowledges that the aim was to increase the states revenues as well as trying to deter the population from unhealthy consumption habits which is a public health issue. The Fat Tax is expected to bring in an additional 100 million rupees (10 crores) to the state treasury.

The Fat Tax has sparked mixed feelings among the population as some hold to the idea that such a tax will indeed have an impact on eating habits whist other believe that it will not change anything. Clinical nutritionist Roma Gupta from Raheja Fortis Hospital, Mahim, Mumbai said that people living in metro cities were the most vulnerable to unhealthy food consumption habits and that a certain portion of the population would be ready to spend the extra cash to eat, tax or no tax.

Following the announcement from Kerala, nutritionist and dietitians from the state of Karnataka wish to introduce such a measure. Going a step further, President Sheela Krishnaswamy of the Karnataka Indian Dietetic Association says that targeting only famous international brands is not enough and said she would like to see a tax affect unhealthy Indian food as well such as vada, namkeen, bajji and puri among others. However, sources from the Health Department said that it would be highly unlikely that such a measure would see the day in Karnataka as the decision would be perceived more as money grabbing technique targeting high and middle income sections of the population rather than a public health strategy.

Measures such as these are gaining momentum in other countries such as in Chile, where the government recently outlawed Kinder Surprise eggs and banned McDonald’s toys in the famous Happy Meals as well as introducing a motion to ban advertising for breast milk substitutes, all with an aim to combat obesity and health related issues especially among the younger section of the population

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