Published on July 24, 2007
Public Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla yesterday urged the future government to increase taxes for fast food, carbonated soft drinks and sweets according to their sugar ratio.
A doctor also called for a law to control the expansion of fast-food chains for fear rural youths will shun fruit and vegetables for fatty food and suffer diabetes and heart disease.
Following a meeting to plan a campaign against coronary heart disease to mark World Heart Day on September 30, Mongkol said a recent survey found that 80 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women ate insufficient fruit and vegetables.
In addition, 20 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women did not exercise enough to get rid of body fat, 17 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women were heavy drinkers and 46 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women smoked regularly, he added.
About 38 million Thais are at risk of coronary heart disease if this situation remains unchanged and their life span will be shorter, Mongkol warned.
He said risky lifestyles and diets must be changed, such as by avoiding food that is too salty, sweet or fatty.
A policy-level solution for the elected government should be tax increases on food and drinks, especially carbonated soft drinks, snacks and fatty fast food.
Mongkol said the tax calculation should be according to the sugar ratio and nutritionists could help by considering which foods registered with the Food and Drug Administration were harmful to health.
"If such foods are pricey, people would consume less of them and reduce their health risks. They would turn to cheaper and nutritious food," he said, adding manufacturers should also be encouraged to use natural sweetening substances - for example, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni - in traditional Thai sweets.
Dr Wichai Ekpalakorn of Mahidol University's Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, said more fast-food chains were moving to rural areas with marketing schemes to promote consumption, especially among youngsters. He said parents bought the fatty food for kids without realising health impacts and more and more kids shunned fruit and vegetables.
Wichai urged the government to implement measures such as a law to control the expansion and advertising of fast-food chains, increased tax for importing fast-food products and the establishment of a panel to study the pros and cons of the fast-food business.
Meanwhile, the Pizza Company marketing director Aniruth Mahathorn said that if the government proposed to hike the food tax according to the sugar ratio, a detailed study should be done.
Saying that his company's food products were cooked with complete-nutrient ingredients following customers' preferences, he said he wondered what reasons the government had to implement such a tax hike.
He said he had never heard of such a tax anywhere else, thus if the government wanted a tax, they would have to study it first.
A source said nowadays fast-food business operators had to pay many taxes including excise tax, revenue tax, sign tax and property tax. If this tax were added, they would study it in detail to find out what the calculation was based on, whether it be raw ingredients or cooked products.
The cooking process changed the food nutrients too, the source added.