The ubiquitous Kerala parotta, considered equally bad but conveniently ignored as they are “poor man’s food”.
Desi snacks and savouries that widen girth need to be taxed too, say health experts
KOCHI: Kerala ‘fat tax’ on pizzas, burgers and doughnuts with an aim to up tax revenue and improve health is being lauded as the first step by a state in India to check on junk food culture. Even as ‘videshi’ junk food is being taxed, people continue to devour desi high-calorie snacks and sweets made in bakeries and the ubiquitous Kerala parotta, considered equally bad but conveniently ignored as they are “poor man’s food”.
Health experts and dieticians who welcome the government ‘fat tax’, are of the view that if people’s health is the prime concern, the state government should also focus on taxing desi junk food, besides ensuring that healthy food is available at a subsidized rate. There is also a need to create awareness on what is healthy.
“Desi junk food is as bad as non-desi counterpart. Calories are more or less the same. A problem with several food items here is that they are cooked in oil heated several times and hence not healthy. As for bakery goods, most of them are made with maida, which is not healthy,” said Dr Susan Itty, chief clinical nutritionist, Aster Medcity, Kochi.
“A taxation plan on junk food is a good beginning. But the ideal situation would be when government taxes all high-calorie and high-sugar foods. Further, to motivate people to eat the right food, the amount earned as taxes from junk food should go towards subsidising healthy food,” said Dr Sreejith N Kumar a diabetologist.
Kerala ranks third after Punjab and Gujarat in terms of obese population, according to health experts. In the case of diabetes too, Kerala tops other states in sale of drugs and insulin. Concerned over the neglect of food safety in terms of chemical, biological and nutrient content, the Indian Medical Association, Kerala State Branch, in 2015 came out with guidelines on safe and healthy food.
“There is an alarming increase in the rate of lifestyle diseases notably diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cancer. There is a very disturbing upward trend in cardio-vascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. Water and food-borne communicable and toxin related diseases are also still prevalent. Food preference is undoubtedly playing a huge role in this regard. Scant attention is being paid to food safety and child nutrition,” states a note by IMA, Kerala.
The state health department is toying with the idea of creating awareness about healthy eating habits. “It is important that people know the exact calorie content of what they are eating. We will work out a plan by which this awareness can reach people,” said health minister K K Shailaja. Endocrinologist Dr RV Jayakumar said that nothing will change until government ensures that the prices of healthy food is subsidised.
“You get to eat junk food at a much cheaper rate than healthy food. Two Kerala parottas in the morning will ensure that a person doesn’t feel hungry the whole day. When you look at the economics, having unhealthy food is a better option than healthy food like fruits. Till the government brings down the prices of healthy food and ensures that it reaches everyone, ‘junk tax’ will only remain a means for the government to earn extra revenue”.