The Carrot and the Stick - Considering a Fat Tax

Sustainability and Environment
Friday, August 29, 2014
Graham Godwin-Pearson, edited by Luke Springthorpe, with a foreword by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP


In October 2011, Rt Hon David Cameron MP told journalists that we should consider a tax on unhealthy foods in Britain. So how realistic is it?

Britain is on the edge of an obesity crisis. England has the highest obesity rate in Europe and one of the highest in the developed world. More than 60% of adults and 33% of 10-11 year olds in this country are overweight or obese.Perhaps most worrying of all is that the trend is set to worsen, with a 73% increase in obesity from 15m to 26m by 2030 from rates in 2011. It is clear from this that drastic action is necessary. The status quo is failing the health of our nation, and has been forecast to add anything up to £2bn a year in costs for treating medical problems resulting from obesity.

Obesity varies widely across Britain, with levels in adults around 30% in the North East and West Midlands, according to the Association of Public Health Observatories. The national mean is 28%, or double the EU average.

Obesity has a severe impact on our health, increasing risk of heart disease, liver disease, some cancers and type two diabetes and reducing fertility. Nationally, it has been estimated that it costs the NHS approximately £5.1bn every year, a similar amount to the cost of smoking-related illnesses.

The finger points at foods in our diet that are high in sugar, high in saturated fats and usually high in salt.

However, whilst smoking-related illnesses are ‘paid for’ by high excise duties, the same cannot be said currently with regards to unhealthy foods.

In this paper, we discuss the pros and cons of introducing a supplementary tax on the food types that are directly linked to obesity, including saturated fats and soft drinks.