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Tax on unhealthy food would lower obesity, claims expert

Published : Thursday April 19, 2012 | Posted in : News

Increasing taxes on junk food could help to get people eating more healthily, said the head of a research group at Oxford University in a film he made to explain his ideas.

Mike Rayner leads a research group dedicated to promoting healthy eating and reducing obesity in the UK, which currently costs heath services billions of pounds a year in medical treatments.

Mr Rayner suggests taxation on unhealthy food such as butter and biscuits as a way to decrease the number of people who are overweight and raise money for the Treasury.

France has added a 2 cent tax on fizzy drinks and Mr Rayner would like to follow suit in Britain with a 12p VAT increase on soft drinks to encourage consumers to switch to healthier alternatives.

MPs who were shown the video disagree with the professor, claiming that more comprehensive packaging and educating people on the importance of a healthy diet would be more effective in reducing our rising levels of obesity.

Mr Rayner said: "There's evidence to show that manipulating food prices can encourage healthy eating. So why are we so reluctant to change the way we tax food?”

However, the taxation may prove more complicated than it seems on the surface, as low-fat foods in the UK often contain high levels of salt, so for the tax to work it would have to take into consideration the total nutritional value of every item.

Denmark currently implements a ‘fat tax’ on all food containing saturated fat, following the same theory as increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which the British government claims will reduce the number of deaths due to the abuse of these products.

Labour MP Angela Eagle said: "My instinct is that VAT or tax may have a role to play but education, assistance, and regulation of some of the salt content in food is all equally important."

The World Health Organization predicts there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese.

Obesity can cause a number of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

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