Do You Think A ‘Fat Tax’ Will Work In The UK?


There has been much talk in the media recently about introducing a tax levy on junk food. Last night’s Panorama programme on BBC1 described it as a ‘Fat Tax.’

With obesity levels soaring across the population, and the cost of medical treatment for the co-morbidities associated with obesity spiraling out of control, the taxation of high-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie foods has been proposed to cull peoples’ eating behaviour in the same way that taxing tobacco, and increasing the cost of cigarettes, reduced the number of smokers and people suffering with lung cancer.

Could this work with food? Is this violating an individual’s rights to have freedom of choice? Would higher prices of junk food really change peoples’ eating behaviour?

The programme interviewed a morbidly obese couple. The man, who already has type 2 diabetes, said higher prices on junk food would make him think twice. His wife, somewhat addicted to chocolate, was less hopeful about the impact taxation would have on her ability to change her eating behaviour.

Lets’ be honest, eating sweet and fatty foods gives us a ‘hit’ in the brain in the same way cocaine does. Our hedonic brain pathways are triggered with every bite of chocolate, or every mouthful of ice cream. Dopamine floods our brain and we feel good. When life is stressful, or you are emotionally feeling vulnerable, would an extra 50p on a chocolate bar make you give up your fix?

There was an interview with the chief scientific advisor for Coca-Cola who steadfastly claimed that all the ingredients in Coca-Cola are ‘wholesome and nutritious’ and that drinking this product gave people ‘joy and happiness.’ She of course chose to ignore the fact that a can of coke has the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, which in turn will hike up your blood sugar and insulin levels, making you a fat-storing machine and giving you huge cravings for more sugar. In the US there is a fight to bring taxation on fizzy drinks, as they are seen to be the biggest consumption of empty calories for the nation.

Then we have Denmark, the leanest nation in Europe who have introduced a taxation on junk food. Early results show that obesity levels have started to drop across the different population groups.

So what about the UK, would a ‘Fat Tax’ work here? Is it morally right?

I believe it will make some people, and I stress some people, pause and think twice about buying junk food. If it is the nudge that motivates them to choose healthier options, then that will benefit us all with less people putting less of a strain on the NHS. However, it really is only the tip of the iceberg. If we want to see real change in the levels of obesity in the UK then we need to implement a more resolute structure for behaviour change and health coaching in schools, in communities, in the workplace and within the health system.

As for taxation of junk food, it’s a great idea, but only if you use the money made from this to make healthier foods cheaper – surely this is a no-brainer.

I am sure the food industry will use every power available to them to block this move, but the health of our nation is at stake. I am in favour of a tax, but within a greater system of health behaviour change. It will motivate people to think eating well is good for their body and for their bank balance.

These are my thoughts, but please click this link to leave a comment and hear what other people think about a ‘Fat Tax.’

Have a great week!