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India Should Not Impose A 'Fat Tax'

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In spite of India's growing health problems, the proposed tax on junk food is, quite frankly, a bad idea.

According to Reuters, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considering imposing many new regulations on junk foods and is looking at policy proposals that have been in existence since 2015 in order to do so. One particular part of these proposals is a "fat tax" that would be applied to junk food throughout the country.

It is true that rising levels of obesity have become a problem in India. The number of obese individuals in the country has risen from 1.2 million in 1975 to 30 million in 2014. Diabetes is also a significant problem; The Times of India called the country the "diabetes capital of the world," with 50 million people suffering from the disease as of 2016.  

With this in mind, it is an undeniable fact that Modi should be attempting to address the problems of obesity and diabetes in his country. While his goal of doing so through the use of the tax is admirable, the tax would actually be an ineffective method.

According to Vision Launch, fat taxes can be ineffective in several ways. For example, the way in which the foods that will be taxed are selected is often very subjective and arbitrary; foods that are considered to be healthy, but are high in fat, are often not taxed. In addition, individuals who are faced with taxed foods will often shift their choices to unhealthy foods that have remained untaxed.

It is likely that if a fat tax in India was implemented, it would be ineffective for all of the reasons listed above. And there is already proof of this. According to Reuters, a fat tax has already been applied to several fast food outlets -- such as McDonald's and Domino's -- in the state of Kerala. The sugar and fat content of these outlets is often similar to that of Indian cuisine eaten in the area, which remains untaxed. 

It is therefore apparent that while a tax might encourage Indians to avoid eating at a restaurant such as McDonald's, the local foods they might choose to eat instead are not necessarily healthier. In consequence, imposing a wider tax would most likely do nothing to improve the health of Indians. 

In addition, fat taxes must be significantly high in order for them to have any kind of effect on a community. According to Vision Launch, there must be a 20 percent tax on an item in order to discourage people from buying it. The current Kerala tax stands at only 14.5 percent. If this tax were to be applied to the whole country, it is unlikely that it would be a deterrent to buying junk food. 

With this in mind, it is clear that the proposed fat tax will not solve obesity and diabetes problems in India. While it may change where Indians get their food, it will not stop them from eating food that is unhealthy. Modi and other Indian officials should look into other, more effective methods of encouraging Indian citizens to eat better and become more healthy. 

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Reuters, The Times of India, Vision Launch / Photo credit: Elliot/Flickr

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