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What Exactly Is The “Fat Tax” and Can It Really Work?


According to a 2015 survey by the Malnutrition Mapping Project, an education and advocacy tool created to map global malnutrition trends by the non-profit Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, India has the third highest number of obese and overweight people in the world, following the US and China in first and second. And in the 2015-16 National Health Survey, the number has doubled in the last decade. Most of us probably didn’t even realize this because we’ve always looked to the west and commented on the obese there, but it’s a growing concern in our country too.

During the discussion and planning for the Kerala annual state budget, T.M. Thomas Isaac, Kerala’s finance minister introduced 14.5% tax on junk food, earning the name “fat tax”. And in conversation with the BBC, Isaac said, “This is more of a preventive measure as Kerala’s food habits are changing dramatically. People are eating a lot of junk food and rejecting traditional food.”

As someone who was born and raised in Kerala, I can attest to the fact that in the last 10 years, there has been a lot of junk food entering the markets. When I was a kid, the only pizzas or burgers we got were what my grandmother made at home. Now, there’s a large KFC in my tiny hometown and it’s always bursting at the seams with college and school kids. Junk food has always been an easy go to meal because it’s cheaper and it’s quick and you can enjoy all the bad stuff in each bite, which only makes it that much more awesome.

What is the “fat tax”?

As mentioned before, 14.5% has been introduced on junk food. And what exactly is junk food? Burgers, pizzas, donuts, tacos, processed food and even the food served at fast food outlets like McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Domino’s. For a state that ate more homemade and traditional food, this is quite the shock. Introducing these fast food outlets and brands into the cities has made them grow as metros in a way. But the growing number of these outlets is definitely cause for concern. The tax adds a large sum of money into the state’s coffers and forces people to take a better look at their eating habits.

And if you thought that the fat tax only applied to international junk food, it’s also targeting things like samosas and certain sandwiches. Which makes you think that this tax applies to just about everything with too much oil and could be considered unhealthy by doctors and nutritionists in India and around the world.

Can it really work?

I sure hope so. According to The Hindu, Denmark introduced a surcharge on foods that contained over 2.3% saturated fat, but it was abolished in 15 months. So if we use that as a reference as an example, there’s a good chance that this ‘fat tax’ might not last very long either. But by the way things are going and how serious Thomas Isaac is about this tax, it might stay and it might last a long time to come. In a place like Kerala, where traditional food is even better than junk food, it might be possible to keep people interested in foods and dishes that their families have made for generations and contain all the deliciousness that they crave from junk food.

The important thing, obviously, is that everyone follows the law. The tax needs to be paid regularly, everything and everyone needs to be monitored carefully, because at the end of the day people need to make sure that the law is followed. Even if the law is abolished in a few months, people will already be so used to not eating junk food anymore that when the tax is lifted, the consumption will stay low. Because if that’s the whole point here, they might just achieve it. As for whether or not the tax will last for years to come, it mostly depends the people in charge. In a country where corruption runs rampant, there’s a good chance that things could work the way everyone else hopes it does.