Unhealthy food tax. Better buy your burgers quick.

25 April 2011

hamburgerAs a further and more serious step than the last week's fat tax, a new unhealthy food tax, aiming to curb soaring rates of obesity and diabetes, should be introduced in the UK, according to a leading epidemiologist. Clearly I already knew what an epidemiologist does, but for those of you who don’t know, it’s a bloke who studies health and  illness in populations.

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald, director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, wants to add to the cost of less healthy products to try and ‘encourage’ consumers to choose something healthier and put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to introduce healthier options and ingredients. Hey, it worked on car manufacturers- when CO2 ratings first came in there were no cars with a CO2 rating of under 100g/km, now there are lots.

But Prof Wald is not suggesting we levy a hamburger tax, like the unpopular proposals currently being floated in Hungary, but outlined his SASS tax at the annual Jephcott lectures last week. The new tax would be applied to salt, alcohol, sugar and saturated fats, the four major ingredients that contribute most to public health problems, although the tax would not apply to the ingredients sold separately (alcohol is already separately taxed).

Unsurprisingly, the products that would be most affected by the new tax would be fast food, ready meals, soft drinks and products containing alcohol, but less obvious products like bread would also see a price increase owing to the salt content, which contributes a significant amount of salt of the average 9g per day diet. We are very afraid for our beloved (salty) bacon.

But enough of this talk of healthiness, if BitterWallet readers want to eat burgers in their underwear all day, who are we to discourage you? Perhaps the effect on your wallet, rather than your waistline will have more of an effect. The tax would be levied at a penny a gram for sugar, saturated fats and alcohol, and a penny a tenth of a gram for salt, and this would see the cost of a Big Mac rise from £2.49 to £2.88, but a portion of Chicken McNuggets only rising 9p to £2.58. Bet the poultry population are worried.

The tax would boost Treasury coffers by £38bn a year, enough to cover much of the interest on the national debt or pay for one-third of the NHS, as well as reducing things like heart attacks and strokes meaning fewer people would need to use the NHS in the first place.

Other countries and US states have introduced similar taxes with mixed results. In 1991, California brought in a snack food tax that led to a 10% drop in sales, but scrapped the scheme the following year. Since 1992, Arkansas has raised $40m (£25m) a year from a tax that adds roughly two cents to 360ml cans of soft drinks. Last year, Denmark brought in taxes on chocolate, ice-cream and sugary soft drinks, and plans to introduce a further tax on saturated fat. Calfornia are again trying to tax this section of the market, with a new Soda tax bill levying one-cent tax per ounce having been proposed in the State legislature. Unsurprisingly Coca Cola are not fans.


  • Nick T.
    Does that mean when the bloke at the chippy asks "do you want salt" and we say "no", the chips will be cheaper? And what about the little blue bag in Salt & Shake crisps? If we take it back to the shop unopened, do we get a refund? If I buy a 99 cornet and give the chocolate flake to my daughter, may I claim the tax back?
  • Gunn
    Not a major difference to the bottom line but if it helps fund the NHS then sounds good to me. Ideally I'd like them to give tax breaks to healthy fruit and veg etc
  • zax
    That would teach all those fat lard-asses to be active. How the hell do fatsos walk about. If I was fat, I would kill myself!
  • Aaron
    Rather than further tax us why not reduce tax on healthy foods making it cheaper.
  • Noghar
    This will never happen for the simple reason that the companies that make millions selling junk and high-fat 'snacks' spend a lot of those millions on lobbying the government, with lots of buzzwords about freedom of choice, OK as part of a properly balanced diet, blah blah blah. No government has yet had the cojones to weigh up how much obesity and diabetes is costing the country via the NHS vs how much revenue they make from VAT on chocolate, crisps, cola and similar crap.
  • A s.
    CO2 has a subscript not superscript to denote 1 carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms in the molecule rather than a factor multiplied by itself as in E=mc2 (squared- superscript)
  • andy y.
    A scientist - are you autistic?
  • Slacker
    We should make Big Macs et al cheaper and wipe out chavs at a stroke (pun intended).
  • Loafer1946
    Why dont we tax expensive restaraunts that churn out small portions of stupidly expensive meals to people that have so much spare money they can afford to eat in these stupidly expensive places just to show off how much money they have.
  • yak
    "The tax would boost Treasury coffers by £38bn a year, enough to cover much of the interest on the national debt or pay for one-third of the NHS, as well as reducing things like heart attacks and strokes meaning fewer people would need to use the NHS in the first place." Surely it would do one or the other, not both
  • The B.
    Hold on now, aren't food staples already VAT exempt? So technically "fatty" foods are already taxed?
  • Milky
    Well bang go's the Addenbrookes in hospital branch of McDonalds, ...they'll bring a greaseburger all the way from behind the counter to your "supersize" Barometric twin axle wheelchair! ..for you to eat whilst waiting to go for heart surgery when Papworth heart hospital is "combined" (absorbed) into Addenbrookes. So perhaps the government & Health "trusts" ought to ban these outlets that are so prevalent in modern hospitals! ..hm!? Would be good if it payed & made the over indulgers in crappy foodstuffs to think twice & change their sedentary lifestyle "choice".
  • Hugh J.
    So this is just to bring things in par with our already stupidly high priced healthy stuff? Another "fuck you Britain" from our compassionate government who care so much about us. Trying to make them look better, which they already do look better to the stupid and the fat. Then on the other-side of the spectrum, just have your doctor prescribe you some nice free bread, milk and snacks. - Its worth asking about ;)
  • Hugh J.
    And yes, encourage us to eat more healthy. Shut down tesco, open the very much missed local shops, and everyones happy.. Tesco Bosses are cunts you know, they pimp chickens!
  • med u.
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