Objective To examine the potential effect of a tax on palm oil on hyperlipidemia and on mortality due to cardiovascular disease in India.

Design Economic-epidemiologic model.

Modeling methods A microsimulation model of mortality due to myocardial infarction and stroke among Indian populations was constructed, incorporating nationally representative data on systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, tobacco smoking, diabetes, and cardiovascular event history, and stratified by age, sex, and urban/rural residence. Household expenditure data were used to estimate the change in consumption of palm oil following changes in oil price and the potential substitution of alternative oils that might occur after imposition of a tax. A 20% excise tax on palm oil purchases was simulated over the period 2014-23.

Main outcome measures The model was used to project future mortality due to myocardial infarction and stroke, as well as the potential effect of a tax on food insecurity, accounting for the effect of increased food prices.

Results A 20% tax on palm oil purchases would be expected to avert approximately 363 000 (95% confidence interval 247 000 to 479 000) deaths from myocardial infarctions and strokes over the period 2014-23 in India (1.3% reduction in cardiovascular deaths) if people do not substitute other oils for reduced palm oil consumption. Given estimates of substitution of palm oil with other oils following a 20% price increase for palm oil, the beneficial effects of increased polyunsaturated fat consumption would be expected to enhance the projected reduction in deaths to as much as 421 000 (256 000 to 586 000). The tax would be expected to benefit men more than women and urban populations more than rural populations, given differential consumption and cardiovascular risk. In a scenario incorporating the effect of taxation on overall food expenditures, the tax may increase food insecurity by <1%, resulting in 16 000 (95% confidence interval 12 000 to 22 000) deaths.

Conclusions Curtailing palm oil intake through taxation may modestly reduce hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular mortality, but with potential distributional consequences differentially benefiting male and urban populations, as well as affecting food security.