Fat tax

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Fifty-eight percent of men and sixty-six percent of women in Pakistan’s urban centres are obese (a “condition where a person has accumulated so much body fat that it might have a negative effect on their health”). According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, “Pakistan ranks 9th out of 188 countries in terms of obesity.”

In Pakistan the culprits are: oily, fat-heavy, sodium-high foods, lack of exercise and urbanization. In urban Pakistan the four culprits are: burgers, pizzas, doughnuts and sugar sweetened drinks (Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Pakola etc). In urban Pakistan the culprits are: fast food chains. In urban Pakistan the major culprits are: McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Fat Burger, Johnny Rockets, Hardees, Dunkin’ Donuts, Arby’s, Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza.

To be certain, “overweight people are more prone to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and kidney disease.” To be certain, “five out of ten fatal diseases are associated with obesity.” To be certain, obesity has been scientifically linked to stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Yes, obesity was once a rich-country problem; no more. There are 700 million obese people and 350 million of them live in just ten countries: the US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Yes, Pakistan is now “one of those countries where obesity and diabetes are increasing at an alarming rate; every one out of four Pakistanis is either obese or overweight.”

In 2003, The World Health Organization (WHO) proposed that “nations consider taxing junk foods to encourage people to make healthier food choices.” WHO has, in effect, recommended the “use of fiscal policy to influence food prices in ways that encourage healthy eating.”

A ‘fat tax’ is a tax that is placed upon fattening food and beverages that discourages unhealthy diets and offsets the economic costs of obesity’. In essence, a ‘fat tax aims to decrease the consumption of foods that are linked to obesity’. WHO called it ‘Twinkie tax’.

According to the British Medical Journal, “a tax on unhealthy food and beverages could slow the rising rates of obesity in the same way as taxing cigarettes leads to decrease in the number of smokers. A tax of at least 20 percent placed on sugar-sweetened drinks could drop obesity rates by 3.5 percent.”

In India, the BJP is considering a ‘sin tax’ on sugary carbonated drinks of as high as 40 percent (some beverage companies have threatened to shut down their factories). Kerala, the South Indian state, is trying to become the healthiest state in India. On July 8, Kerala proposed a ‘fat tax’ on restaurants that sell fast foods like burgers, pizzas and doughnuts. In a first of its kind move in India, Kerala plans to charge a 14.5 percent tax on fast food sold by chains like McDonald’s and Dominos.”

Yes, “2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese”. Yes, targeted fat food taxes can improve the health of Pakistanis. Yes, fiscal policy can be used to control obesity. Yes, the principal sources of dietary saturated fat should be taxed.