Kerala’s Fat Tax: What will it take to win the fight against obesity?


Obesity is a rising concern in India. With India’s second most obese state levying a tax on junk food, experts debate if such measures help in the long run. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The fat is in the fire in God’s Own Country, with the Kerala government planning to tax junk food at 14.5%.

The ‘fat tax’ will be levied on burgers, pizzas and processed foods served in organised fast-food outlets, including international brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

The idea is to try and slash fast-rising obesity rates in the state. Right now, 28.1% of women and 17.8% of men in the state are either overweight or obese, putting Kerala a close second to India’s most obese state, Punjab. (Here, 29.9% of women and 18.2% of men are either overweight or obese).

Obesity fuels lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, and the Kerala numbers are way above the national average of 12.6% of women and 9.3% of men, found the last National Family Health Survey, in 2005-06.

So, what are junk foods, and how much is too much? “Junk foods are foods that have empty calories and zero nutrition. All refined and processed foods fall in this category, including deep-fried vada pav, kachoris, pakoras and samosas,” says Karishma Chawla, a nutritionist who runs a health clinic in Mumbai.

“Most of the essential sugars and fats that our body needs are present in our daily diet. Invisible sugar, for instance, comes from fresh fruit and dry fruit, and fats from cooking oil, meat, eggs and nuts,” Chawla adds.

Still, seven of every ten patients who come to Chawla have skin and weight problems linked to junk food consumption.

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