We’ve been here before; I remember being interviewed about this by the BBC during last year’s National Obesity Forum conference. This time new research from Oxford has hit the headlines. There have been reports in the press today about how a “fat tax” applied to unhealthy foods could help combat obesity.
Oliver Mytton and colleagues at the University of Oxford examined the evidence on the health effects of food taxes. It’s suggested that a tax on unhealthy food could help improve health, but the tax would need to be fairly heavy to make a difference – up to 20%. Ideally, a move to make fruit and veg cheaper would have to accompany such tax.
Instinctively I feel opposed to this, because I believe that people should be able to make an informed choice based on clear nutrition messages. It penalises people who are not over-weight and many might suggest it undermines our intelligence. It hits poorest families the most and it still doesn’t give them the tools to learn how to eat well. And will it work? Have rising fuel prices made us fill up less at the petrol pump?
On the other hand, I’m constantly reminded that people are still confused about seemingly simple things like what counts as a portion of fruit or veg. Food labels have gone through so many improvements, yet I’m not convinced that the average person finds it easy to decipher them.
Some food manufacturers are doing a great job at trying to create tasty foods that are lower in fat, sugar, salt and so on. Yet the harsh reality is that we are getting heavier, and putting on weight particularly around your middle can have serious health consequences in terms of conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
I decided to have a bit of twitter chat on the subject and here are some of the comments debated by fellow dietitians.