Time for fat tax in Kolkata?

Time for fat tax in Kolkata? (Viktoriia Leontieva/Getty Images)
Debjani Bhaumik of Behala is a self-confessed pizza-addict and she loves to punctuate her pizza meals with trips to a burger joint on Park Street. Despite being overweight, the homemaker has refused to go slow on her fast-food consumption. The imposition of a ‘fat-tax’ on fast-food by the Kerala government has set her thinking. Even though she isn’t planning to give up, Debjani has decided to cut down on her consumption to reduce the pocket pinch, in case the tax travels to Kolkata.
“The tax is a steep one and should be enough to drive people like me away from junk food. It’s time to make a switch to health food, at least partially,” she said
Doctors in Kolkata hailed the tax, which they termed as a ‘good beginning’ towards curbing a non-healthy diet. But it needs to be supplemented with measures to popularize health food, they felt. “Saturated and trans-fat could be deadly if consumed regularly. Saturated fat contains LDL cholesterol which could lead to cardiac ailments and cerebral strokes. Regular consumers of fast food are at risk for they are consuming several times more calories than they need,” said Debashish Basu, preventive medicine specialist.

Experts pointed out that few consuming fast-food engaged in physical activities that could burn out the additional calorie intake. “Most fast-food consumers have a busy schedule and they prefer it because fast-food is available quickly and easily. They rarely bother to check the calorie count. This additional calorie gets deposited and invariably leads to health hazards,” said Amitabha Saha, consultant at Ruby General Hospital. Diabetes and abdominal fat were the two most common fall-outs of fast-food addiction in Kolkata, pointed out Basu. “Fat in the abdominal region is the principal trigger for cardio-vascular diseases. It invariably travels to the cardiac arteries and clogs them,” Basu said.

Not just excess calories, fast food also led to unplanned consumption of protein, pointed out Subir Ganguly, oncologist. “Fast-food is often laden with deep-fried meat and eggs. The trans-fat count rises as the same food is fried again and again. That apart, the preservatives used are also harmful and often carcinogenic. In fact, excess consumption of salt and sugar with fast food is risky as well. A pizza or a burger is often washed down with aerated drinks, which are again a rich source of additional calories,” said Ganguly .

A tax on fast food was not enough to discourage consumption, he felt. “A tax is fine but the government should suggest alternatives through a guideline on healthy food. It should be well publicized through an organized campaign,” Ganguly suggested. Basu agreed. “Most fast-food consumers belong to the affluent class who can afford to pay more. So, we need to wean them away which is not easy,” he said.

Fast-food chains were tight-lipped about the tax or its possible impact. “We don’t have the tax in Kolkata yet, so it would be hypothetical to comment,” said a KFC official in Kolkata.


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