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Time to tax ultra-processed food to battle obesity

Time to tax ultra-processed food to battle obesity

Sugar is a baddie, but so is fat. Is it time to pay more attention to the unhealthy effects of the two combined so we can make a real impact on childhood obesity?

Campaigning groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt are calling on the Government to introduce a calorie (i.e., energy density) tax on all calorie-dense processed foods that meet criteria set by the Government, similar to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.

The news comes at the same time as a survey from Ubamarket (an app to make supermarket shopping easy) of 2,000 UK adults that found a quarter of millennials cannot cook a healthy meal from scratch.

Surveys indicate that, as a nation, we are consuming more ultra-processed foods than ever before, and the message from the scientific literature is clear: too many ultra-processed foods are bad for you,” said FitPro resident nutritionist, Linia Patel. “It’s important to read the nutritional panel and the ingredients to watch out for other red flags, such as added sugar, salt and unhealthy fats,” she added.

Obesity levels continue to rise and, as a consequence, so do type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In order to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis, manufacturers should be forced to pay a levy to the Government if they fail to reduce excessive calories, i.e., energy, in their processed unhealthy food, and this cannot exclude fat, which is a bigger contributor to calories in the diet than sugar. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London showed that, when compared to sugar reformulation alone, fat and sugar reformulation could result in a much larger reduction in excess calories to reduce obesity. In a study that analysed more than 850 cakes and biscuits, the researchers found that fat contributes significantly more to the calorie content than sugar, i.e., the more fat they contain, the more calories they contain, regardless of their sugar content.

Holly Gabriel, nutritionist at Action on Sugar, explains that it’s easier to argue the case for taxing sugar as, although we don’t need to exclude it completely from our diets, it provides no nutritional value, whereas we need some fat for total health. “However, too much saturated fat continues to be proven bad for us, as highlighted in the most recent guidelines from The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.[i] One of the issues is that there’s such a huge variation of fat within the same categories of cakes and biscuits. For example, saturated fat in Rich Tea biscuits varied six fold, from 1.2g to 7.2g per 100g.”

By introducing the levy, we would help to create a level playing field, allowing consumers to make healthier choices,” she explained. “This level playing field would also ensure that everyone, whatever their income, can access healthier food and drink when they shop. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has resulted in most soft drink choices now being reduced in sugar (and has ring-fenced £340 million in income direct from manufacturers). The same needs to happen with fat/sugar and calorie-dense foods,” added Gabriel.

She concluded; “The proposed action isn’t about creating a nanny state; it’s about taking proactive steps to reduce childhood obesity. In addition, Action on Sugar and Action on Salt say that the Government also needs to ensure that any revenue is ring-fenced and used to support initiatives such as breakfast clubs and sports in schools.”

Discussing the proposed levy, Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said, “We need a firm commitment from HM Treasury and The Department of Health and Social Care,” adding, “This levy should be invested back in a much more comprehensive approach to prevent obesity in both children and adults.

References

[i] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814995/SACN_report_on_saturated_fat_and_health.pdf

Where to next? Head over to our recent blog on ‘Obesity rivals smoking as a cancer risk.’  VIEW NOW. 


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