Belfast Telegraph

Could levy on unhealthy food improve our well-being?

By Josh Barrie

Apparently, Oswald Mosley has made an unwelcome return to the East End of London. A new breed of blackshirts - this time clad in red - are marching through the Olympic Village imposing rules that we must all adhere to. If we don't? Goodness knows what might happen.

We are officially one of the fattest countries in the world. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we come in at seventh place. Quite possibly a reflection on where we'll end up this summer in all too many events. How fitting, then, that we're now boasting the biggest McDonald's on the planet.

In the backdrop, the issue of a 'fat tax' remains. David Cameron is said to be weighing up the idea. Such an intervention would be met with some cynicism: would such a tax hit the poorest hardest?

Well, an outright fat tax might, but a health-related food tax, with a subsidy on healthier foods taken from the extra revenue sought from higher taxes, would counter the negativity.

In a recent study by the Food and Ethics Council, food taxation is discussed at length.

Any such incision into food pricing may well be argued with complaints about more Government intervention, the fact that a simplified additional taxation on food is 'regressive' and, indeed, the matter of hitting the poorest hardest because they are more inclined to buy cheaper foods.

While most agree that there is more we could be doing to tackle obesity and the diseases associated with it, experiments into the effectiveness of measures such as 'fat tax' are up for debate.

Problems also arise when taxes are imposed, but are set too low to have any real effect.

For instance, according to the Food and Ethics Council: "Modelling studies on sugar sweetened beverages in the US predict a daily reduction in energy consumption of up to 209 kJ per person for a 20% tax. This is predicted to reduce the prevalence of obesity by 3.5% - though no state currently imposes a tax as high as 20%; the average is around 5%."

The suggestion from this study is an introductory 20% tax on sweetened soft drinks that would allow the Government to gauge how effective such measures are.

It is not government nannying, but a simple ideal of improving the lifestyle and well-being of people across the country as well as limiting spiralling health costs.

As complex as it would be to put into practice, I find it hard to see how a health-related food tax would do anything other than good in a society where people eat bargain buckets as regularly as they eat apples.

When it's relatively commonplace to encounter a sober couple eating doner kebabs on the bus home from work, you know things are on the brink of calamity.

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