Doctors have rejected a call to support proposals for a “fat tax” on unhealthy food because it would have an unfair impact on people from a disadvantaged background.
During this week’s BMA Annual Representative Meeting in Bournemouth, delegates debated the issue of tax being placed on certain foods considered unhealthy.
Manchester specialty trainee 4 in public health medicine Louise Harding argued that cigarettes and alcohol were taxed to limit consumption and it was time to consider a levy on unhealthy food.
“Obesity is a public health time bomb. Doing nothing about it is not an option,” Dr Harding said.
Newcastle foundation year 1 Zoe Greaves was opposed to taxing unhealthy food.
Although a ready-made lasagna costing 66p contained 6.6 grams of saturated fat and a pizza costing 44p contained 4.2 grams of saturated fat, she said: “In a world where the proverbial apple a day can cost 35p, can we really expect the poorest to always make the healthiest choice? Is it even a choice at all?”
Cleveland GP Julie-Anne Birch also opposed such a tax and said: “I believe in personal freedom and the right for people to choose. Not the imposition of an unfair fat tax by a nanny state. The cost of a burger or a lasagne will not solve the problem of obesity.”
Dr Harding argued there was no simple answer to countering the rise in obesity, and recommended that children be taught at a young age about nutrition and that food labelling should be clearer to help people make healthy choices.
“A busy parent doesn’t have time … they need to pick something up [at the supermarket] and be able to see at a glance what is in it and whether it is healthy or not … In some loaves of bread there is as much salt in two slices as there is in a packet of crisps,” said Dr Harding.
Sheffield medical student Anna Watkinson-Powell said big business spent a lot of money on marketing and lobbying, adding: “The medical profession needs to shout even louder. We must not be afraid to take a hard stand.”
The meeting rejected a new tax on unhealthy food but called on the UK governments to ensure that food labelling clearly indicates the potential health impact of all foodstuffs; ban sales of partially hydrogenated fats; impose a limit on salt in basic food items; and make nutritional education a compulsory part of the national school curricula.