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Budget 2019: Preventing India’s Fitness Crisis

31st Jan 2019
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By 2020 India will be one of the youngest major economies in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, in ten years’ time more than 77% of Indians will be under the age of 45. With most developed economies (like Japan and Western Europe) ageing, this large youth majority will play a big role in boosting our growth story and establishing us an economic super-power.


However, there is a massive crisis looming in our nation that could upturn this advantage.


HUGE FITNESS PROBLEM IN INDIA


Despite being one of the youngest countries, India is also one of the most unfit. And that’s evident when you look around you. More than 400 million Indians (i.e. 1 in every 3) are medically unfit, suffering from preventable lifestyle diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes.


The primary cause for these diseases is a lack of physical activity or exercise. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, around 54.4% of Indians are physically inactive (in comparison to the global average of 1 in 5 adults).


If you believe that this crisis impacts only the middle-aged or senior generation - think again. Due to these lifestyle diseases, there is a rapid increase in heart-related diseases amongst Indians under 35 years in our country. In comparison to the West, young Indians are three to four times more likely to suffer from heart attacks and Indians gets heart attacks at least 10 years earlier than the West.  This epidemic cuts across all age groups. According to a recent study, India has more than 14 million obese children, the second highest in the world.


It even has a significant impact on our wallets. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, medicines are one of the biggest expenses of Indian households, accounting for 42% of a family’s out-of-pocket spending. Coupled with rising healthcare costs - it is clear that being medically unfit is burning a hole in our pockets.


GOVERNMENT EFFORTS


Our government recognises that urgent action needs to be taken to help Indians get healthy and stay fit. Last year, they launched the “Hum Fit Toh India Fit” campaign. Spearheaded by Union Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the initiative saw celebrities and political figures alike sharing videos of their exercise regimes to encourage Indians to make time for fitness. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared moments from his morning Yoga routine to inspire followers to start exercising.


The government has also taken steps to address the financial implications. Prior to 2018, spending on fitness services had been treated as luxury expenditure and accordingly taxed. However, in 2018, the government reduced the GST charged on gym and fitness studio memberships - bringing it down from the 28% slab for luxury items.


MAKE FITNESS AFFORDABLE FOR ALL


The government has extended tax benefits for medical expenses up to ₹40,000 in a drive support Indians getting healthy. Under Section 80D of the Income Tax Act 1961 a taxpayer can claim deductions for treatments, check-ups and premiums.


But why only give benefits to help people get back to good health once they have fallen sick? Why not also support those who invest in their own fitness?


Which is why, for Budget 2019, we recommend that the government extend the same tax benefits under Section 80D to include expenses on fitness services such as memberships to gyms, fitness studios, yoga centres, sports academies or fitness programs.


By expanding the ambit of benefits given under this section, we can incentivise Indians to increase their activity levels and reward those who make fitness a part of their regular routine.


By making fitness accessible and affordable for all, we will be taking a big step towards address the health crisis in our country. Let us encourage the government to enable Indian citizens to get fit and stay fit. Let us #MakeIndiaFit.  



This articles is written by FITPASS co-founder Akshay Verma and is based on his recommendations to the government as part of his ongoing pre-budget consultations with the Ministry of Finance.


FITPASS is India’s #1 fitness app that gives its members the freedom to workout anywhere, anytime with India’s largest network of 3000+ premium gyms and fitness studios across 9 cities. FITPASS members can work out near their home, office, the neighbourhood market etc., at their convenience. They can choose from hundreds of workout options - gym, yoga, Pilates,

Zumba, CrossFit, kickboxing, aerobics, MMA, spinning, and many more.


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