The introduction of a ‘fat tax’ in Denmark has been widely reported this week and will apply to foods that contain saturated fat. With other countries following, is it something we should be considering in the UK?
With obesity rates continuing to rise and governments looking at ways to raise revenue in the current climate, taxing unhealthy foods is now being seen as a serious option for policy makers.
So-called ‘soda taxes’ on sugary drinks have been talked about in the United States for some time and the French Government has now said that it will introduce one. Hungary has already introduced a tax on foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
With around a quarter of the UK population obese, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Poor diet also contributes to the major killers in the UK – cancers, heart disease and stroke. The Government is due to publish a policy on how it will tackle obesity this year – so is it time to look at fat taxes here too?
High prices make healthy choices hard
Many factors obviously influence what we eat – from what’s most convenient to how it’s marketed and labelled. But price has always been a key factor and is becoming more so.
Research we carried out looking at the barriers to healthier eating found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people think it would be easier to eat healthily if healthier options were cheaper.
The debate about fat taxes is therefore particularly interesting when the price of many foods, including fresh vegetables and dairy products, has increased a lot in recent months.
A Which? survey on food prices in July found that 84% of people are worried about food prices increasing. More than half of people think that high food prices make it difficult to eat healthily.
The idea behind taxing less healthy foods is that it helps shift the balance of what we eat. By taxing foods containing saturated fat (such as butter, cream and cheese) the Danish tax aims to encourage people to eat less of them.
What are the alternatives?
Research we have conducted into the role of financial incentives and disincentives has found that these types of taxes are just one option. The evidence isn’t very clear at the moment about what impact they have and there are concerns that they hit lower income consumers who are already struggling particularly hard.
Other measures, such as looking at how VAT is already applied to foods, and whether this can be more in line with healthy eating advice seem more promising and less divisive.
Price promotions would also be a good place to start. Just three in ten people told us that they think it is easy to eat healthily using supermarket special offers – so isn’t it time the supermarkets and other retailers took more responsibility for the type of foods they put on special offer and include in multi-buys?