Intended for healthcare professionals


India has a problem with palm oil

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 28 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6065
  1. Bhavani Shankar, professor of food, agriculture, and health1,
  2. Corinna Hawkes, head of policy and public affairs2
  1. 1Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research in Agriculture and Health and School of Oriental and African Studies, London WC1H 0PD, UK
  2. 2World Cancer Research Fund International, London WC1B 3HH, UK
  1. b.shankar{at}

A substantial tax could be part of the solution

The taxation of foods to improve health is an active area for research and policy making around the world. The literature generally shows that large food taxes can influence consumption and health.1 However, the low levels of taxes typically considered, along with the weak responsiveness of consumption to price changes, mean that studies often report only a small impact on health.2 The distributional consequences of “fat” taxes have also been debated—such taxes impose greater economic burden on lower income groups, although health benefits are also higher for these groups.1 2

In the linked article (doi:10.1136/bmj.f6048), Basu and colleagues simulate the effects that a 20% tax on palm oil would have on serum cholesterol and mortality from coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease in India.3 The modelling approach combines an economic model of household consumption with a health microsimulation model that translates changes in oil consumption arising from the tax into changes in mortality from myocardial infarction and stroke.

This study is a valuable contribution to knowledge for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of the few studies on fiscal …

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