BBC’s Panorama asked whether a tax on junk food would make Britian healthier earlier in the week. But should we be concentrating on reducing the price of healthy options instead?
There’s no doubt that most of us are getting fatter. A staggering quarter of adults are already obese and children aren’t that far behind. And even beyond obesity, other diet-related diseases are major killers – whether it’s cancer, heart disease or stroke.
What we eat is obviously not the whole picture – it’s about healthy lifestyles more generally. But it’s often easier and quicker to get your calories ‘in’ than to get them ‘out’ by exercising more.
A lot of the trends we’ve seen in recent years have been a mixed blessing. Everything is convenient – which can help with our busy, multi-tasking lives – but it can also make it difficult to keep track of exactly what you’re eating. Hidden calories, fat, sugar and salt can all lurk in foods that we eat without a thought.
We’ve been campaigning to make it easier to make healthier choices for a long time. It can often seem like the default is to be unhealthy. That’s why we’ve called for a range of inter-related measures, such as clearer labelling, information about what’s in food when you eat out, changes to recipes and more honest marketing.
Is taxing junk food an option?
In the current economic climate, price is obviously a really important factor when shopping for food. A survey we did last year – perhaps unsurprisingly – found that people thought it would be easier to eat healthily if healthy foods were cheaper.
You may have seen Panorama this week talking about whether we should now be looking at food taxes for unhealthy food. There’s been a lot of debate about this in the US, especially since their problem is even worse than ours – particularly in relation to sugary soft drinks that contain loads of calories but no real nutritional benefit.
But food taxes are a controversial area. They hit the poorest hardest, and food prices are already on the rise anyway. Since we already pay VAT on some foods, maybe we should restructure this system to be more effective from a health perspective?
Why not make healthy choices cheaper?
Our research has found that that people were actually more open to measures that would make healthier choices cheaper, rather that making unhealthy ones pricier.
From a recent review we commissioned, we found that there are various options beyond putting tax up on less healthy food or ingredients. Supermarkets could look at what types of food they put into price promotions, the price of fruit and veg could be subsidised in some outlets, and smaller portions shouldn’t have to come with a bigger price, for example.
So it seems worth exploring how different types of tax could work, what the implications are and how they could realistically be applied. But it’s also important to consider a broader range of options to make healthy foods more affordable. Do you think we should look into making healthier choices cheaper, rather than adding tax to junk food?