Time for the Government to look at the waistline
A lot has been talked about and debated around the topic of processed food and unhealthy eating habits at an early age. Britainsaid it would tax companies which sell sugary soft drinksand invest that money in healthprograms for school children saying nearly a third of those aged 2 to 15 are already overweight or obese. Other countries such as France, Hungary, Belgium and Mexico will also impose some form of tax on drinks that have excess sugar. Similarly in India, Kerala government is planning to tax junk food at 14.5%. The ‘fat tax’ will be levied on burgers, pizzas and processed foods (ie. taxing the food groups that make one fat or increase their risk of developing diabetes) served in organized international fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Domino’s. Aim is to try to cut fast-rising obesity & diabetes rates in the state. Presently, 28.1% women and 17.8% men in Kerela are either overweight or obese, putting it close to India’s second most obese state, Punjab.
In my opinion, the Government of India should take measures to identify the problem from the root. Obesity is a challenge not only in countries like US and China, but also in India- known to be the third largest in the world. One recent studysuggests that the medical cost of obesity was nearly $150 billion in 2008 which seems to have doubled last year.
Campaigns on smoking and alcoholism is common, then why doesn’t the Government investigate & study obesity and diabetes which is an immediate need? Government actions won’t directly alter someone’s decisions about eating and exercise. Education efforts have not worked, and we can’t regulate or litigate any citizen’s access to total calories or exercise choices. Instead, the Government should look at educating consumers in general about obesity and diabetes especially children and adolescents. They should encourage outdoor sports, physical activities and adopt a regular fitness regime rather than engaging in unhealthy lifestyle habits. This will do wonders in improving health and well-being of our citizens.
Encourage schools to front this initiative in the age brackets (3-8) and combine an increased physical education/activity emphasis linked with dietary education as well.
The government should avoid subsidizing food products that form the basis for unhealthy food options. There has been a discussion on the new Govt directives on dangers of Trans Fats & hydrogenated oilsand phasing out of artificial trans-fats (5-12x higher TF’s in Indian foods than global standard), however there has been no discussion on dangers of hydrogenated oils. Regulation on FMCG, F&B food ads hasn’t yet been applied.
Positive incentive, voluntary programs or responsibility given to public schools can be ensured to promote healthy choices in physical activities and diet plans. Allocating more funds to community level parks that can open up spaces for physical activity for citizens should be looked into. Change in our current tax and agricultural system to stop subsidies for many sugar products can perhaps help reduce consumption of junk foods.
Obesity in part is a matter of personal responsibility, however, as a nation, we need to start paying more attention to the impact of the social determinants of health to our society.