Home / Politics / Policy /  Health body wants tighter rules, higher taxes on unhealthy foods

New Delhi: India could consider harsh measures, including tighter regulation on sales, and higher (almost punitive) taxes on not just tobacco but alcohol, saturated fats and foods high in salt and sugar.

Recommendations to the effect are part of a report on chronic diseases which will be released by Y.S. Chowdary, minister of state for science and technology, on Tuesday.

The report has been drafted under the aegis of the country’s first Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions, which will be launched by the minister on Tuesday, and has been prepared by experts from Emory University, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

The four institutions are also behind the centre.

Chronic conditions are now the leading cause of death in India, accounting for more than 5 million deaths each year—over 53% of all deaths. This is projected to rise to almost 75% of deaths by 2030.

The report expresses concern about India’s “compromised" capacity to deal with the ‘chronic disease crisis’.

Other significant recommendations include increased regulatory control and taxation on palm oil and imposing urban design laws to allow people the opportunity of physical activity.

If adopted, the recommendations could lead to India’s own so-called fat tax.

New York imposed a controversial trans-fat ban in 2006 and banned super-size sodas in 2012.

The Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions has the mandate of providing a coherent, strategic approach to the health ministry to deal with the non-communicable disease epidemic in India, according to D. Prabhakaran, public health expert, PHFI .

The report recommends “re-orienting India’s healthcare system" by introducing evidence-based policies, stronger legislation and assessment of all macroeconomic policies related to overall health of the population.

The problem is significant, added Prabhakaran.

“We are staring at a massive epidemic and have a serious burden of chronic conditions and we need multi-sectoral approaches, where ministries like health, commerce, finance, agriculture should work together to address the multiple dimensions of chronic diseases."

The Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions will work towards achieving the World Health Organization’s “25/25" target (a 25% reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by 2025, as adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2012).

The Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions report states that the impact of chronic conditions threatens to undermine India’s economic development.

“Historically, India has been paying attention to reproductive and child health and infectious diseases and rightly so. But, over a period of time, with better immunization and changes in lifestyle, the type of diseases that affect us has changed," said Nikhil Tandon, an endocrinologist at AIIMS.

He listed heart diseases, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes as the new diseases.

Tandon added that the Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions would aim “to leverage the institutional might of these four institutions and influence policy. The entire effort is India-centric—the information we generate will help us argue more cogently for the cause of evidence-based policymaking."

That is evident in the report—which lists recommendations for 16 ministries.

For instance, it wants the ministry of new and renewable resources to “develop alternative stoves for households that rely on coal and wood".

And it wants the ministry of statistics and programme implementation to include “chronic condition indicators under national family health survey".

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