As Union government mulls introducing ‘fat tax’ on junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages in the upcoming budget to curb down non-communicable diseases, doctors are divided if this move will help in bringing down rising numbers of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Doctors and experts say junk food causes diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart attacks.
Dr Jayashree Todkar, secretary of obesity surgery of India, said junk food related illness is growing by the day.
“Making fries, burgers and pizzas expensive is a good move, but at the same time it is very important to spread awareness about how unhealthy these foods and drinks are and how health risk rises,” said Todkar.
She said while people want to know about side effects of prescribed medicines, none of them consider pros and cons of what food they eat.
“India is diabetes and obesity capital (of the world), but we hardly pay attention on why our country has this status. When I prescribe any medicine to my patients, they ask me about pros and cons about it, but when food is concerned, nobody is bothered what they are consuming and whether it is healthy or unhealthy. This is why awareness on food consumption is really important,” said Todkar.
She cited an example of one of her patients, wherein her mother fed her burgers from McDonalds every time she scored well in examinations.
“Junks and beverages taste good and so, they are addictive. Rewarding our children and dear ones with junk food will lead to non-communicable diseases,” said Todkar.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity in India has risen one-and-a-half times in last quarter-century. Heart diseases and diabetes together result in 28 per cent of all deaths.
“Indian snacks such as vada pav and samosa are cheaper to consume and easily available. However, healthier foods should be made cheaper, so that it is consumed more than junk food. There should be ‘no taxation, but regulation’ on right consumption of food and beverages,” said Dr Raman Goel, Director of Bariatric Surgeon at Wockhardt Hospital.
Goel said availability of junk food has also increased. “People who are consuming it will not stop consumption as taxation will not affect them,” said Goel.
Dr Manish Motwani, who is a Bariatric Surgeon, said there are 40 million obese people in India, of which 3 million are morbidly obese.
“Fat tax concept is good, but it is not useful for people who are already obese” said Motwani.
Motwani shared the case of Laksh Motwani, a resident of Mulund, Mumbai. He weighed 112kg at age 13, and suffered from diabetes.
He was addictive to junk and beverages, which made him obese. After undergoing a bariatric surgery, with disciplined diet and completely abstaining from junk food, he is now fit and fine.
Dr Shashank Joshi, Endocrinologist at Lilavati Hospital, said, “Junk food is empty calories with no nutrition. For a body, intake of carbohydrates and proteins are really important.”
Joshi said balance nutrition plays a vital role in one’s body. In India, there is more consumption of fats and crabs.
“Unhealthy foods and beverages should be strictly banned, so that there is no consumption of it. Only introducing ‘Fat Tax’ will not make any difference till the time there is ban,” said Joshi.
Earlier, Kerala’s policymakers had proposed a 14.5% ‘fat tax’ on junk food, burgers and pizzas sold at fast food restaurants in the state with the aim to curb obesity. Kerala government is not the first to propose such a plan though. Denmark started the trend by levying a tax on food that contained saturated fats.