Tax ‘HFSS’ foods, view it as a public health imperative – High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) Taxation in India: A Public Health Imperative | 20 December 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the alarming rise of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) food consumption in India and its detrimental impact on public health, economy, and individual well-being.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
  • GS3: Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life.


  • India faces a silent health crisis driven by the skyrocketing consumption of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) foods. The article sheds light on the alarming rise of NCDs linked to unhealthy diets, the economic burden it poses, and the urgent need for a dedicated HFSS tax as a public health intervention.


  • Rising Tide of Unhealthy Diets:
    • Global Burden: 70% of overweight/obese individuals reside in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, dispelling the notion it's solely an affluent world problem.
    • India's Struggle: The NCD burden has nearly doubled from 38% to 65% in 30 years, with dietary risks alone causing 1.2 million annual deaths.
    • Economic Ramifications: Unchecked, the economic impact will balloon from $23 billion to $480 billion by 2060, jeopardizing productivity and growth.
  • Shifting Dietary Landscape:
    • Ultra-Processed Food Boom: This sector's 13.4% CAGR between 2011-2021 reflects a surge in consumption.
    • Sugar Dependency: As the world's top producer and consumer, India witnesses alarming levels of HFSS food intake.
    • Tripled Sales: Sales of snacks and soft drinks tripled in a decade, exceeding $30 billion, indicating a worrying dietary trend.
  • Global Tax Trends:
    • SSB Taxation: Over 60 countries levy taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, proving its effectiveness.
    • HFSS Tax Gaining Traction: 16 countries, including Mexico and the UK, have implemented dedicated HFSS taxes.
    • Colombia's Model: The recent “junk food law” with its gradual levy offers a valuable example for other nations.
    • Kerala's Short-Lived Attempt: India's 'fat tax' introduced in 2016 was subsumed into GST, showcasing the need for a dedicated policy.
  • The Case for HFSS Tax:
    • Market Failures and Negative Externalities: The consumption of HFSS foods creates societal burdens through increased healthcare costs linked to diet-related diseases.
    • Internalities and Misinformed Choices: Consumers' limited understanding, influenced by aggressive marketing, leads to inadvertent harm. Taxes can nudge them towards healthier choices.
    • Beyond Revenue Generation: Unlike tobacco and alcohol, the goal is not just revenue, but incentivizing industry reformulation and promoting healthier diets.
    • Non-Regressive and Fiscally Neutral Design: Studies demonstrate that such taxes can be non-regressive, with lower-income households seeing proportionately greater reductions in unhealthy purchases.
    • Differentiated Tax Rates: Taxing based on nutritional content encourages reformulation towards healthier alternatives.
  • GST Inadequacy: 
    • Current GST rates fail to consider nutritional content, offering the same rates for both unhealthy and healthier alternatives, hindering a shift towards healthier diets.
  • HFSS Tax as a Public Health Imperative:
    • Multiple Benefits: It can deter unhealthy consumption, promote healthier choices, prompt reformulation, improve health outcomes, reduce healthcare burden, and foster national well-being.
    • A Potent Tool in Combination: When combined with education and effective food labeling, it can be a powerful weapon against the rising tide of NCDs.

Way Forward:

  • India's escalating HFSS consumption demands immediate action. A well-designed HFSS tax is not just an economic policy, but a critical public health intervention vital for building a healthier and more sustainable future for the nation.

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