Kerala imposes 14.5% ‘Fat Tax’ on pizzas, burgers


Risk of heart disease, ‘bad’ cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance down the line and dental distress and weight gain; perhaps, it was with this thought Kerala’s CPI(M)- led Left Front declared a 14.5% ‘fat tax’ on branded restaurants selling food like pizzas, burgers, pasta, doughnuts etc.

The supplementary revenue of Rs 10 crore, collected from this tax is supposed to boost the state’s health during what’s being called as a “severe financial crisis”.

The tax will have an impact on popular fast-food chains like McDonalds, Dominos, and Pizza Hut. However, Kerala will peer with countries such as Denmark and Hungary that have similar taxes on foods with high fat t and calorie content and low nutrition.

There is also a 5% tax on packaged products made out of wheat, maida, sooji and rava. Junk food is too loose a term for Dr Anoop Misra, chairman of Fortis Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol. He is concerned with food that provides “high energy” but no nutrition.

The worst offender are sugary drinks, which, he says, the government should have targeted first. “Someone’s advising them but not too properly,” Misra said. “They should have gone first for sugary drinks, then other partially hydrogenated oils, apart from coconut, then burgers and pizzas.” This is what he would recommend to other states thinking of similar steps.

Misra said that the government needs to target street vendors who repeatedly use oils with trans fat more than fast food chains, as a larger population eats from the former. “This is a welcome step,” he said, but not enough. The Delhi government is mulling taxing sugary drinks to reduce its consumption, and countries such as Mexico did so three years ago.

Such food has been long linked to the rise in lifestyle or non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc. Controlling them has, in the recent past, been part of Kerala’s state health policy, where measures such as educating and encouraging hotel and bakery group for promoting NCD food and banning of junk food in schools and government-run canteens have been debated.

Though Kerala was not part of first phase of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s diabetes survey, the study showed worrying data about the rise of the disease in the country recently with 58% urban and 36.8% people unaware of diabetes and its complications.

A Lancet study, released on April 6, said that India has seen a rise from 11.9 million patients in 1980 to 64.5 million in 2014, with double the prevalence among men and an 80% increase among women.