PM Modi govt planning sugar tax to fight obesity and diabetes


In an effort to curb the growing incidence of diabetes in India, the government is planning stringent measures including higher taxes and stricter advertisement norms to regulate sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food in the country. The health ministry and the central food safety regulator are working on a detailed proposal to curtail increasing consumption of unhealthy food and beverages, mainly among children, leading to a burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In fact, the work on the plan has moved beyond a proposal and an inter-ministerial consultation has already taken place in February .

“There is a serious effort to control non-communicable diseases mainly diabetes and cancer. We have drawn a multi-sectoral action plan and consultations are being held with different ministries.There are specific proposals as part of the plan,” a senior official in the ministry told TOI. The ministry is now compiling the feedback from all the ministries and will soon take up the proposal to the finance ministry and the PMO for further action, he added.

According to the official, there is an overall consensus among various ministries and government departments to take stringent measures to contain the rising disease burden right at childhood.

Latest estimates by the Diabetes Foundation and Centre of Nutrition and Metabolic Research show the annual per capita consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in India has increased from around 2 litres in 1998 to 11 litres in 2014.

 The government’s proposal, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is likely to include stringent packaging norms for packaged junk food and beverages including soft drinks, energy drinks and other sugar sweetened beverages. While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has been asked to look at the packaging related issues of such products, the ministry is also evaluating imposing restrictions on endorsement and advertisement of such products, mainly during prime time.
“High consumption of sugary beverages contributes to multiple metabolic disorders due to accrual of body fat, as well as directly through excess non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs), which impair critical functioning of the liver, pancreas and cellular functions,” said Dr Anoop Misra, chairman of Fortis C-DOC Centre of Diabetes.

Public health agencies and doctors worldwide have raised concerns on the increasing burden of the disease, mainly in middle and low-income countries. Latest WHO estimates show prevalence of diabetes in India has doubled from 32 million in 2000 to 63 million in 2013 and is projected to increase to 101.2 million in next 15 years.

Highlighting how sedentary lifestyles coupled with sugary , salty and fatty diets rich in refined carbohydrates are driving the epidemic, WHO South East Asia regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said the governments must also insist on accurate food labeling to help consumers make right decisions and tax sugary beverages and reinvest the revenue in health promotion activities.

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