A sound bite

A sound bite

Fat tax

A sound bite

The strain in implementing resolutions does nothing to deter us from making them, year after year.

     The most popular one on this ‘to-do’ list remains the arduous yet appealing task of losing weight. But despair not because you just may have found an unlikely ally in the union government!

   The government is planning a ‘fat tax’ on junk food and sugar-sweetened drinks in the upcoming budget. The proposal is being considered to curb the growing incidence of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity. But how far will such an ambitious plan actually help?

“It is a good proposal but everything depends on the implementation,” says Pallavi Arun, a professional.

“For example, a similar exercise was carried out in Denmark. But the government there decided to wind down the scheme in 15 months due to administrative issues and because the people there went for cheaper alternatives, thus defeating the purpose. That should be seen as a lesson for everyone.”

“Last year, Kerala became the first state to levy a ‘fat tax’ on junk food like pizzas and burgers,” says Anu Sunil, a student.

“But I am not sure how successful it was or the impact it had on the health levels. Because for one thing, the tax was only on ‘western’ foods and excluded our Indian snacks like samosas, banana fritters, pakodas and so on. These are equally unhealthy and should be cracked down on as well.”

Despite the misgivings, the suggested step has still found favour with a majority of people in the health and wellness industry. “I love it, I think it is a brilliant idea,” says Ryan Fernando, chief nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Clinics.

“It will have an effect similar to how putting up pictures on cigarette packets and increasing their cost saw the trend line of the number of smokers beginning to slow down.” He goes on to add, “Maybe the people with high disposable incomes won’t care about the inflated cost. But the mere fact that the government took a stance for health at a time when diabetes is the topmost problem in urban India is commendable. Because if the current trend continues, a few years down the line we will be the country with the youngest albeit unhealthy working population.”

The effort needs to be appreciated, agrees Susmitha Subbaraju, co-owner of ‘Carrots’ restaurant.

   “It is a step in the right direction to discourage unhealthy lifestyle choices. But junk food addiction is quite prevalent and ultimately, it is a person’s choice about what or what not to eat. It would also be a good idea to offer subsidies for organic food to take this step further,” she says, a suggestion that Ryan agrees with.

    “Exercise trackers and food supplements can also be made cheaper,” he suggests.

While there was an earlier proposal to tax only food and beverages with high sugar content, the fresh proposal is to widen this canvas to include fat and salt. So most probably, all food items considered junk — including Maggi, Cadbury  and other chocolates, potato chips like Lays and Kurkure and pizzas and burgers — will come under this high tax bracket with a cess on top of it.

Talking about the need to nip the problem in the bud, Pallavi highlights, “We need a crackdown on advertisements that use colourful  visuals, cheery images and interesting toys to entice  children into eating junk food. Awareness is the need of the hour and stopping misleading advertisements would be a most helpful step in this  regard.”