Put a Price to a Calorie: A Fat Tax?

Erma Bombeck has very sagely put it to the world: “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” Perhaps the populace of the country, in an attempt to display its steadfast fealty to Mrs. Bombeck, has taken her words to heart. With obesity invading more than its fair share of households due to an uninhibited outburst of fast food joints and impetuous rise in the variant forms of beverages available to the public, we indulge in a mirthful irony. While experts believe sixty five to seventy percent people in metros are obese and every third person suffers from diabetes, we harbour another major section in our country where people’s bones are peeking out of their skins. The incessant consolidation of India into the global food market has done a fat lot of bad. Pun intended. The reasons one might want to steer clear of such a condition are many, widely known and acknowledged. Cholesterol and Heart Failures are simply the tip of the iceberg. With every third person in the 1.2 billion that we shelter allegedly suffering from diabetes, it seems to be going downhill.

The authorities, however, bring us a spark of hope and throw us a rope in times when we find overwhelmed by a sea of unwanted adipose tissues: Fat tax.

Troubled by the possibility of an obesity epidemic, health researchers have, in an attempt to dissuade the same, advocated taxation of beverages, specifically fizzy cola drinks to overthrow this tyrannous reign of fat. PLOS Medicine, in its study of 100,855 households has determined that a 20% tax on merely soda beverages could abet obesity by 3% in a decade, which would be equivalent to preventing 11 million new cases. The one of a kind study has earned appraisal from learned luminaries who gauge this to be revolutionary step in mitigating type 2 diabetes. With an average child gaining 1.3 kilos per year, courtesy the surmounting types of sweetened drinks that test their taste buds, this disincentive in a country where the consumer is ruled by price-consciousness, could be a balm for the scorching burns.

The logic is apparent. Banning such products would incite a reaction similar to that of banning of nicotine products. Et Voila, we restrict. Rookie question: What is a fat tax? To decrease the consumption of food items linked to weight gain, offset the increased risk of coronary heart diseases and inhibit economical costs of obesity, the government places a tax on these products. Certain countries have established their footing with this idea. While Japan has stood by this policy, Denmark has scraped the same despite generating an additional than $216 million in revenue! Which begs an answer to the question, just how effective is taxation of fattening foods?

One cannot expect beverage companies to react to these concerns. The fact is indisputable that a firm political commitment is necessary to aspire to get this issue under wraps. Such a move of deterrence is estimated to be capable of doing away with four lakh diabetes cases over the next decade. The extra tyres of one’s stomach are a sign of impending doom, since the decreased mortality is a resounding slap in the face. Hungary invests the extra 70 million Euros such taxation earns it into healthcare programmes. Commendable. The path carved out by Poland, which withdrew subsidy on animal fat, appears to be the one to approach: Make healthy food cheaper, unhealthy food expensive. The burden of bearing a redundant cost will effectively drive people away from chasing after their favourite air-tight packets of potato-laced destruction and foaming drinks that seem to lure with their inherent sparkle. Also, one cannot go amiss with the additional fund that the government will generate that could cover health care, medical research among other necessary arenas. Above all, it will vastly alleviate the condition of the human capital, which might go a long way. Those who wish to argue will point out how awareness is possibly a better alternative an approach so categorical. However, that would imply it could have happened. In which case, in all these years of the world’s battle with an expanding belly, it should have happened. The principle is the same: Tax petrol to reduce pollution.

However, what prima facie appears to be a quick solution is laden with factors that remain unaccounted. For the success of hypothesis rests solely on the assumption that people will, in fact, be influenced by such prices, which is where the entire argument falls. Consider a mundane example. The child of a maidservant, who finds these beverages to be quick fix solutions to her child’s hunger, will let this practice continue. A mother, who understands the problem even that packet of Lays, predominantly occupied by nitrogen can create, will have a reason to restrict the consumption of the same even further. And this is what the entire argument boils down to: What is the reach of this ideology?

The primary fallacy present here is, what food does one deem fit, or rather, unfit enough to be slapped with a disgrace? For any food devoured in an abusing fashion will lead to obesity, irrelevant of its contents. Besides, high-fat food consumed in regulated amount is as harmless as a toothless canine! If this action were to be taken after sufficiently establishing cognizance among the masses, the public would be much more equipped to make choices regarding the purchase of the same. The hilarity is that a regressive tax would, in all essence, punish successful businesses for providing products that people want! And while soft drink consumption shows a simpler trend, the future of this policy is bleak, very dark indeed, since fast food consumerism is a much more complex mechanism. What about an Avocado, an innocent victim of this regressive regime, high in fat yet as healthy as an apple? Lastly, the state is not a nanny. The people may eat as they wish to. After all, freedom to choose what lawful eatable goes in your system is an inherent part of the liberty we legally enjoy, is it not?

The dichotomy is painful, yet an idea can be seen emerging from this bafflement. There is a myriad of options laid bare for the state to choose from. A viable option would be regulation of the way VAT is imposed on fatty food, post ensuring sufficient enlightenment of a disillusioned public about these pesky, provocative products.

My concern, dear reader, remains very fundamental. Why this undemocratic nepotism to every other product while my beloved bottle of Mountain Dew is singled out?

Vishakha Choudhary

Writer. Reader. Laugh-er, if such a thing exists.

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