To Control Non-Communicable Diseases, The Junk Food Tax Expands and Grows

At a World Health Organisation meet in Delhi last week, the key agenda was on controlling non-communicable diseases (also known as NCDs). Eleven participating nations – including India, Sri Lanka and Bangaldesh – pledged to carry out screenings for NCDs as well as regulate the eating habits of citizens and sale of food high on sugar, salt and trans fat.

Kerala and Gujarat have already implemented the fat tax, by which fast food outlets have to pay a higher tax and the same applies to those eating at these outlets. India is one of the few countries in the world to have a high number of obese people, but diabetes and heart disorders are also a recurring problem.

Health minister J.P Nadda said, “We are going step by step. It is important to make people aware of the side effects of unhealthy food. We will also evaluate the proposal to impose higher taxes.” And also added that the government was always aware of the rising burden of NCDs and that they are working to control them. The government will also be issuing specific guidelines for public food consumption. Research states that every year, nearly 5.8 million Indians die of NCDs like heart and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes before reaching the age of 70.

According to the Diabetes Foundation and Centre of Nutrition and Metabolic Research, the annual per capita consumption of sugar sweetened beverages in India has risen from around 2 litres in 1998 to 11 litres in 2014. Also speaking at the meet was Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for WHO Southeast Asia who said, “This is an important opportunity to reaffirm (our) commitment to the global goal of reducing NCD-related premature mortality by one third by 2030, and to actually map how we will get there.”

Even with the fat tax and the rise of health and wellness food products, there is still such a large market for junk food and sugary products, because it appeals to more people. Cutting down on this and education and informing the people of the health risks is key.