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Kerala’s Fat Tax Linked to Reduced Fast Food Purchases, Study Shows

A recent cohort study involving 238,015 credit and debit card accounts in the Indian state of Kerala has shown a significant decline in fast food purchases following the implementation of a state-level fat tax. This tax was introduced by the Kerala government as part of efforts to combat rising obesity rates and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The study, conducted by researchers at the National University of Singapore, demonstrated a noteworthy 3.9-percentage point reduction in the fast food purchase ratio, defined as the proportion of fast food purchases in comparison to total food purchases, among cardholders during the fat tax implementation period (August 2016-June 2017).

The fat tax, which primarily targeted fast food items sold by branded restaurants, was implemented by the Kerala government in August 2016 but was discontinued after 11 months, in July 2017, when the Indian federal government introduced a nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST). Surprisingly, the decline in fast food purchases continued even after the tax’s discontinuation, with a substantial reduction of 5.6 percentage points observed when compared to the period before the tax was introduced.

The study’s findings suggest that this fat tax in Kerala was associated with fewer fast food purchases, providing important insights into the impact of such taxation policies on public eating habits. In a world where obesity and NCDs are on the rise, particularly in India, where approximately 18.9% of the population was found to be overweight or obese, these results highlight the potential effectiveness of taxation as a tool to combat unhealthy eating habits.

However, the study also raises several important questions about the design and implementation of food tax policies. Researchers note that future studies should consider factors such as social inequality, nutritional deficiency, and political concerns when assessing the effectiveness and consequences of such policies.

The findings of this cohort study not only add to the growing body of evidence supporting fat taxes and similar measures but also emphasize the importance of designing food tax policies thoughtfully and considering the specific context of the region they are intended to serve.

For a country like India, where obesity, diabetes, and other NCDs are significant public health challenges, the implications of this study are of particular relevance. It provides policymakers with valuable insights into how fat taxes can positively influence dietary choices and potentially contribute to better public health outcomes.

Source: JAMA Network Open Journal