Junk food is in the press again, this time pressure groups Action for Sugar and Action for Salt want the government to tax companies who make processed food with ‘excessive calories’ to help encourage product reformulation and reduce fat, saturated fat and sugar intake. The idea is that the funds raised would be ring-fenced to go towards improving children’s health by investing in tackling childhood obesity.

This is a similar idea to the sugar tax which is said to have taken 90 million kilos of sugar out of the nation’s diet since it was introduced in April 2018.

So, will this work? Is this the state going too far? In October 2011, Denmark introduced a fat tax on butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed foods if the item contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. However, in November 2012 the Danish Tax Ministry announced it would abolish the ‘fat tax’ stating that it failed to change Danes’ eating habits, had encouraged cross border trading, put Danish jobs at risk and been a bureaucratic nightmare for producers and outlets.  Could we be another Denmark?

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt said: “The UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy has been remarkable…[and]…has already resulted in a much bigger reduction of sugar content of drinks in the UK than originally anticipated, as well as ring fencing £340million of income directly from manufacturers, not the public, to spend on improving children’s health…the same could be achieved in creating a levy to reduce excess calories”

The research behind the call for action points out that there is a huge variation of fat within the same categories of cakes and biscuits, which indicates that reformulation could be achieved. For example fat in chocolate cakes varied from 12.2g to 27.5g per 100g and fat in Victoria sponges varied from 8.5g to 24.7g per 100g. I don’t know about you but I don’t fancy thinking about how much fat is in my fondant fancy! They do have a point though.

Is it fair that Joe Blogs who purchases a chocolate bar as a lunchtime treat, irrespective of how healthy they are, should be contributing towards taxes and medical costs too?

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There are no plans to introduce a calorie levy. We are already reducing exposure to fatty and sugary foods, and are now consulting on further plans to offer clear labelling and more support for individuals to manage their weight.” It therefore seems this is not a priority for them.

For now I think we are safe to assume that our little treats will not be taxed to pay for the ‘fat tax’ but that doesn’t resolve the question surrounding why chocolate bars are so much smaller these days…