Demands for a 'fat tax'
Jul 12, 2007 by Andrew Hull
A recent research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concludes that if taxes were raised by 17.5% on fatty, sugary and salty food that it would lead to a 1.7% reduction in heart and stroke deaths.
In 2004 former prime minister Tony Blair said in response to similar research that such action was too suggestive of a "nanny state".
However the researchers from the Department of Public Health at Oxford University are among the first to try to work out how targeted taxes might have an effect on levels of illness.
They attempted to use economic data to first work out how demand would fall as the price of unhealthy foods was increased and which foods people might switch to instead. After that they used the results to predict the possible benefits on the health of the population.
They first applied the tax to only dairy products that contain high levels of saturated fats such as butter and cheese as well as baked goods and puddings and concluded that the average weekly food bills would increase by 4.6% per household!!
Since the analysis suggested that people would simply switch over to other unhealthy foods such as those containing high levels of salt which would perhaps even increase the risk of stroke and heart disease they then turned to a different measure of food healthiness called the SSCg3d score whereby points are awarded according to the content of the eight nutrients in 100g of the food.
The preliminary conclusion was that taxing all products which scored poorly on the scale saved lives and resulted in approximately 2,300 less deaths per year from heart disease and stroke.
They later tweaked the range of taxable products to include those foods which might not score so poorly on the scale but might be used as alternatives if unhealthier foods were taxed an this approach generated the most striking results with as many as 3,200 deaths being prevented.
Maura Gillespie from the ‘British Heart Foundation’ announced that her organisation did not yet support the idea of ‘fat taxes’, saying, "The debate on unhealthy diets is important as it is estimated that 30% of deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by unhealthy diets but further evidence is needed on the effect of targeted food taxes before we can support a fat tax”.