09 Jul 2016 14:20 IST

The fat’s in the fire in Kerala

The State’s move to impose a 14.5% tax on junk food has fat chance of success

The newly-elected LDF government in Kerala has just introduced a ‘fat tax’ on junk food items such as pizzas, burgers and tacos.

State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, presenting the LDF government’s first State Budget after the party stormed to power, has announced that a 14.5 per cent tax would be imposed on branded restaurants selling items such as pizzas and burgers.

Tackling obesity

The aim of this tax is to ostensibly attack the growing problem of obesity in the State, especially among kids.

According to the National Health Survey report of 2015, Kerala stands second in the country (after Punjab) in child obesity.

A State health department study across 1,500 schools showed that one in two students in Kerala faced lifestyle diseases.

The rationale for the tax may be right. But is this the right way to tackle the issue? Or is it a half baked idea? Questions arise instantly on how the government will implement it.

First of all which food would be classified as junk? Will the State government undertake an exercise to determine the nutritional value and saturated fat content of fast food? After all there are pizzas and pizzas — would whole-wheat pizzas with a minimal amount of cheese get the same treatment as maida-based cheesy pizzas?

And what about the desi culprits? It would be interesting to see how a parotta and beef fry stacks up against a McDonald’s burger.

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government is also attacking ready-to-eat chapattis.

Goodbye convenience as wheat products in a packet will be taxed 5 per cent henceforth.

For the middle class in Kerala, which grapples with household chores as domestic help is very expensive and hard to come by, this would spell a big blow.

Denmark did it

This is not the first time a government has tried imposing a ‘fat tax’. Denmark famously did it in October 2011 in a bid to limit the intake of fatty foods among its population. Food that had more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat was subject to a surcharge.

This meant that dairy foods and processed foods all came under the same bucket of unhealthy.

The Danish government had even considered a move to tax sugar. But within a year the Danes had scrapped the fat tax. Why? Because the fat tax led to job losses, inflation, cross-border shopping and proved to be an administrative nightmare.

If an efficient Scandinavian state failed, would an Indian State be able to implement it? Fat chance, one would think.

Awareness drives in schools, malls and stringent warnings — such as those on tobacco packs — might be a better way to tackle obesity.

Also it would be more beneficial if restaurants were forced to declare the nutritional value and fat content on their menus.

The common man may be able to stomach that better than a tax!

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