Tax ‘HFSS’ Foods, View it as a Public Health Imperative


05:06 AM

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Tax ‘HFSS’ Foods, View it as a Public Health Imperative Blog Image

Why in News?

  • The consumption of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) foods stands as a major contributor to a global health crisis, fuelling issues such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
  • India has witnessed a staggering increase in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) burden.
  • Therefore, it is important to assess how combined with nutrition literacy and effective food labelling, tax on High-Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) foods can help improve health outcomes.

Key Findings of The Global Burden of Diseases Study

  • Global Trend of Health Crisis
    • According to a World Bank report of 2019, worldwide70% of all overweight and obese people live in Low- and Middle-Income Countries.
    • The number of overweight or obese people in rural areas worldwide has increased by 55%.
    • This data challenges the idea that this issue is limited to wealthy nations and urban, well-off communities.
  • Health Crisis and Economic Impact in India’s Case
    • The Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) burden in India has skyrocketed from 38% in 1990 to 65% in 2019.
    • The global burden of diseases study shows that annually 1.2 million deaths in India can be attributed to dietary risks alone.
    • The economic impact of overweight and obesity in India was estimated at $23 billion in 2017. If unattended, this is likely to rise to $480 billion by 2060.

Changing Dietary Habits in India

  • India is the world's largest producer and consumer of sugar and it has witnessed a concerning growth in ultra-processed foods.
  • The growth has been compounded at an annual rate of 13.4% between 2011 and 2021.
  • About 50%-60% of edible sugar, salt and fat produced in India is consumed by the processed food industry.
  • Sales of snacks and soft drinks have tripled over the past decade, exceeding $30 billion last year, indicating a disturbing trend in dietary habits.

Implications of India’s Shift in Dietary Habits

  • Increasing Chronic Health Conditions: The rise in HFSS food consumption is intricately linked to the surge in chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • Escalating Healthcare Costs: The growing prevalence of NCDs poses a significant strain onhealthcare systems, leading to escalating costs for diagnosis, treatment, and management.
  • Impact on Productivity and Economic Growth: Sales of snacks and soft drinks exceeding $30 billion indicate a disturbing trend in dietary habits, not only endangering public health but also impacting productivity and economic growth.

Global and Indian Efforts to Combat Implications of HFSS Food

  • Fiscal Measures: Taxation
    • Around the world, there is a growing pattern of using financial measures to address the problem of obesity.
    • Taxing unhealthy products is a powerful way to decrease their consumption because many consumers are sensitive to changes in price.
    • While taxes on sugary drinks are widespread and implemented in over 60 countries, taxes onHFSS foods are not as common, though their use is quickly growing.
  • Taxation on HFSS Food by Some Countries: Some 16 countries including Denmark, France, Hungary, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, now have a dedicated tax on HFSS foods. 
  • Colombia’s Junk Food Law: Most recently, Colombia’s junk food law introduced a gradually increasing levy on ultra-processed foods, providing a model for other nations. 
  • Fat Tax of Kerala, India: In India, Kerala had also introduced a fat tax way back in 2016, which later got incorporated into India’s Goods and Services Tax in 2017.

The Need for a Comprehensive High Tax on HFSS Food

  • Due to Market Failures and Negative Externalities: Eating HFSS foods is linked to problems in how markets work, leading to negative effects that show up as societal costs, particularly in higher healthcare expenses.
  • Can Save Additional Societal Costs and Spending
    • When people consume more HFSS foods, it results in negative effects that become societal costs, specifically seen in higher healthcare expenses.
    • For instance, the rise in diabetes and obesity due to increased HFSS consumption creates additional costs for society.
    • This leads to increased healthcare spending, which is often funded through higher taxes to support public health insurance programs like the Ayushman Bharat Yojana.
  • Taxes Can Help Consumers Understanding and Dietary Choices
    • On the other hand, internal issues arise from consumers not fully understanding the consequences of their choices, often influenced by aggressive marketing.
    • This leads them to unknowingly harm themselves. Taxes can be a focused and effective way to discourage harmful consumption habits, thus lessening the overall burden on society.
    • The implementation of such taxes has proven successful in several countries, resulting in a decrease in the buying of unhealthy products.
  • Inconsistencies and Limited Impact of GST
    • Current Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates on ultra-processed foods do not adequately consider nutritional content.
    • Inconsistencies in taxing aerated beverages, juices, and salty snacks overlook varying nutritional impacts, limiting their impact on altering consumption patterns.

Effective Way of Designing Effective HFSS Taxes

  • Apply Non-Regressive and Fiscally Neutral Approach
    • Taxes on HFSS products do not have to serve only to generate revenue; rather, they can be used to motivate the industry to make healthier products and encourage consumers to make better choices.
    • If designed well, these taxes can be fair and financially balanced, not disproportionately affecting any particular group of people.
  • Differentiated Tax Rates Mechanism
    • Varying tax rates depending on the nutritional quality of products can encourage companies to improve their offerings.
    • For example, a GST system could apply higher rates to HFSS foods and lower or zero rates to healthier alternatives, providing an incentive for the industry to produce and consumers to choose healthier options.


  • HFSS taxation in India must be viewed not just as an economic or fiscal concern but as a public health imperative.
  • Combined with other measures such as nutrition literacy promotion and effective food labelling, HFSS taxation can be a potent tool to combat the rising epidemic of overweight and obesity, fostering a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Q1) What are Non Communicable Diseases?

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, are collectively responsible for 74% of all deaths worldwide. More than three-quarters of all NCD deaths, and 86% of the 17 million people who died prematurely, or before reaching 70 years of age, occur in low- and middle-income countries. NCDs share five major risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and air pollution.

Q2) What are the prevention methods of NCDs?

Avoiding canned food and excessive salt can prevent hypertension. Also, taking high fibre content helps in controlling hypertension. A healthy and balanced diet is also vital for overall body health

Source: The Hindu