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Tax on unhealthy foods could stop over 3,000 deaths a year

Taxing certain foods could prevent up to 3,200 deaths from heart attacks and stroke in the UK every year, say researchers.

They assessed economic data on food consumption in the UK and used a mathematical formula to work out the likely impact of adding VAT (17.5 per cent) on a range of foods.

Three different approaches were used:

  1. Tax on dairy products containing high levels of saturated fats, such as whole butter and cheese, baked goods and puddings. However, calculations showed that this would increase salt intake instead, which could increase deaths from heart disease and stroke.
  2. Tax on foods attracting an SSCg3d score (measure of ‘healthiness’) of more than 9. For example, spinach scores -12 and chocolate digestive biscuits score +29. This would prevent around 2,300 deaths a year.
  3. They widened the range of foods taxed to cut fat, salt, and sugar intake for maximum health, which would prevent up to 3200 deaths from heart disease and stroke every year.

Jemma Edwards, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK said, “Diabetes UK believes there are a range of ideas that need to be investigated to improve people’s diets and in turn reduce obesity-related complications such as heart attacks and strokes.

“It’s not just saturated fats that can be harmful, people also need to limit foods high in salt and added sugar.

"Deterring people from buying certain items such as dairy products may be potentially harmful. Dairy products are an important part of a good diet and essential for healthy bones and teeth.

"Good education about the damage a diet high in fat, salt and sugar can do is key to encourage people to change their eating habits. It is also important to educate people about physical activity. Both diet and physical activity are vital in keeping healthy.”

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health .

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