[Answered] Critically examine the role of fiscal measures, such as taxation on High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) foods, in addressing public health challenges like obesity and diabetes in India. How can such measures be effectively implemented without being regressive?

Introduction: Give a brief context to the question

Body: Highlight the role of fiscal measures in addressing public health challenges and measures for effective implementation

Conclusion: Way forward

HFSS food consumption contributes to health issues globally, challenging the misconception that obesity is limited to affluent urban areas. In India, Non-Communicable Diseases rose from 38% (1990) to 65% (2019), causing 1.2 million annual deaths. The economic impact was $23 billion in 2017, with a projected increase to $480 billion by 2060 if unaddressed.

Role of fiscal measures in addressing public health challenges

  • Incentives for Behavioural Change: Taxes on high-fat, high-sugar foods (HFSS) act as a deterrent, urging people to choose healthier foods and cutting back on the intake of unhealthy products associated with diabetes and obesity.
  • Revenue Generation: By taxing foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, money may be set aside for public health campaigns, healthcare programs, and interventions. This creates a steady stream of financing for tackling health issues.
  • Sector Reformulation: By providing incentives, taxes can stimulate the food sector to reformulate and produce healthier substitutes. This encourages a change in production towards goods that cause fewer health problems.
  • Lowering External Costs: The use of HFSS results in higher healthcare costs, which are external. Taxes aid in the internalization of these expenses, placing the onus of these items’ negative externalities on customers and the industry.

Measures to ensure effective implementation

  • Designing Effective Tax Structures: The current GST rates on highly processed goods, like sugar-sweetened drinks (SSGs) and salty snacks, are not commensurate with their nutritional value. Various discrepancies don’t take into account the different nutritional effects of various goods, hence they do not affect changing dietary preferences for healthier options. Therefore, the need is to design tax structures that consider the nutritional impact of foods, with higher rates for HFSS products and lower or zero rates for healthier alternatives, can be more effective.
  • Consumer Education: Unhealthy consumption patterns are a result of both the influence of aggressive marketing and a lack of customer awareness. In addition to taxing, encouraging nutrition knowledge and offering unambiguous food labels can enable consumers to make more informed and health-conscious decisions. These measures can be supplemented with other measures such as the promotion of nutrition literacy and effective food labeling, as more potent tools to combat the rising epidemic of overweight and obesity by creating a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Conclusion

India could create a specific tax system and study the finest methods that other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Hungary, Mexico, and South Africa, have implemented as a deterrent to consuming HFSS, promote healthier food choices and foster the nation’s well-being.

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