Why the UK could be waddling towards a fat tax

By Graham Holter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fat tax, Nutrition

Why the UK could be waddling towards a fat tax
The prospect of a fat tax has lurched back into view following a damning Lancet editorial claiming the food industry is failing to tackle the UK’s obesity “pandemic”.

The medical journal is publishing a series of four papers examining the global obesity issue. Unless action is taken, it warns, 11m more British adults will be obese by 2030, costing the health service an extra £2bn a year.

The UK government has made it clear that only voluntary agreements with food and beverage companies are on the agenda, and many of the public health committees are made up of large numbers of these very industry representatives,” ​the editorial said. “Do these voluntary agreements work? All indications so far are that they do not.”

It added: “The obesity epidemic will not be reversed without government leadership. Business as usual would be costly in terms of population health, health care expenses, and loss of productivity.”

Hungary fat tax

Hungary is introducing a fat tax in September which will penalise foods with a high fat, sugar or salt content in a move it believes will raise €70m a year.

Denmark recently introduced a saturated fat tax that resulted in significant price increases on butter, margarine and whipped cream.

In May a UK tax on salt, alcohol, sugar and saturated fats was proposed by Sir Nicholas Wald, director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London.

He said: "There is now a substantial global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There is no single way to tackle it, but one way is to engineer society to make the healthy foods cheaper relative to the unhealthy foods.”

Adopting the tax would earn the Treasury £38bn a year, he said.

UK resistance

But the idea of a fat tax remains highly contentious in the UK, where even the British Medical Association has voted against supporting such a scheme.

A BMA spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We believe regulation is part of the answer to the problem. The way to have a successful policy on this is to adopt various different approaches. One is to try to give people the information so they know the kinds of things that are in their food – we’re in favour of the traffic light system.

“We don’t believe in fat taxes or anything like that. The government and society needs to focus on children, promoting exercise in schools and healthier lifestyles​.”

One leading industry consultant, who specialises in fat-related issues, said: “I think the industry has done quite a lot to try to counter the problem but to a large extent it’s down to people’s lifestyles.

“It’s not just about energy intake – it’s also about energy expenditure. Why not put a tax on television?”

He added: “I would like to think that a voluntary code is going to be enough. You can put codes in but it still comes down to what people, in the end, want to do.”

Terry Jones, the Food & Drink Federation’s director of communications, said the Lancet​ had not given the food industry enough credit for its recent efforts.

Protective role

"We recognise the significant threat that obesity poses to society and have taken a proactive role in improving health​,” he said. “Food companies are well aware of the complex diet, lifestyle and health challenges facing society and understand the high expectations that policy makers, regulators and campaigners have of the entire food industry.

“Though the Responsibility Deal initiative is still in its infancy, we firmly believe that, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development made clear last year, co-operation between government and industry is the single most critical link in a multi stakeholder approach.”

Related topics: Food Safety, Fats & oils

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Fat Tax is a great idea

Posted by Marina,

I believe that a fat, sugar, salt tax system would really help everybody. Unfortunately, we humans all need someone to push and control us for the best; we always need to be ruled by someone or something. Very few of us can control ourselves. So, if government will control us, it would be better.

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Fat Tax

Posted by Clare Cheney,

A fat tax would be utter folly because it is by no means proven that fat is behind the obesity epidemic. Over consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates is more likely to be the cause according to many experts. You only need to look at what happened in the USA when the government in the '70s, I think it was, urged the population to eat less fat,because they believed on the basis of very little evidence that fat was to blame for an increase in coronary heart disease. The American public followed this advice, but increased their sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption to compensate. Their weights have ballooned ever since. Before our government makes any decision on this they MUST do some proper research into the real cause of obesity rather than presume that it is fat. Look at the biochemistry! It is much more difficult for the body to convert fat into fat than sugar into fat. It does the former as a last resort and a lot of sugar is needed to fuel the metabolic process. But if there is surplus sugar sloshing around in the bloodstream it is converted to fat.

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