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Fat tax: the idea makes its way around Europe

Friday, 22 June, 2012 - 14:07

Since January 1st 2012, French people pay their sodas at a higher price. Other European countries even tax directly fat- and sweetened aliments. These measures to sensitize consumers with the issue of obesity make their way through a continent where junk food is overly present.

Frozen pizza, sodas, hamburger: the war against junk food is a sanitary emergency. Obesity makes its way everywhere in Europe. A recent study by the OCDE shows that the share of overweight people in England could reach 70% by 2020. The situation is just as worrying in France. The share of obese people has doubled in the past twenty years.

The risks due to obesity can be dreadful: high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, loss of self-confidence…

After a warning campaign, some countries have decided to go further by setting up special taxes on some products.

Butter no longer melts in Danish mouths

Even though Denmark's obesity rate is far below the European average, the country has introduced  a tax on saturated fat in October 2011.

According to the Guardian, Denmark intends  to spare €165 million a year and reduce by 10% fat consumption thanks to this tax.

Prices of chips and cookies as well as milk, oils, cheese and frozen pizza have all increased. One kilogram of saturated fat costs 2,15€.

With this tax, the price of butter has increased of 40 euro cents in average. Pretty tough for a country so fond of Wienerbrod.

Hungary and the "burger tax"

Last fall, Hungary has also joined the taxed junk food club. The government intends to bring the country back below the European obesity average and to generate €70 million to finance healthcare expenses.

Ironically, this "burger tax" does not apply on burgers but only on biscuits, sodas and pre-packed cakes: €0.02 per litre for drinks, €0.92 per litre on energy drinks, and €0.37 to €0.74 per kilogram for biscuits.

The French war against sodas

In France, sodas are taxed since January 1st 2012. Now, they cost €7.16 per hectolitre, which corresponds to 2.5 cents per can, 10.5 litre per bottle, or 8% of the final price.

This debate on junk food is not new in France. Even though the country is well known for its cuisine, burgers and sodas are anchored in the French's diet.

According to a study of the Wharton School Business, France is the second market of Mc Donald's. It currently has 1200 restaurants.

With this tax on sweetened drinks, the state intends to save €120 million and to lower obesity. The country, though, isn't so touched by this disease and ranks at only 23 over 27 on the obesity scale.

Junk food taxed at 20%

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced himself in favour of a law to fight junk food in the UK. Though, a recent study by the British Medical Journal explains how taxes in some states are not high enough:

Taxes on unhealthy food and drinks would need to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on diet-related conditions such as obesity and heart disease"

says Dr Oliver Mytton of the public health department at the Oxford University and co-author of the study.

In the land of the fish and chips, junk food rules. Britons drink on average 100 litre of soda per year. That's three times more than across the Channel.

Subsidize fruits and vegetables

For the BMJ, the collected funds should be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, in order to change bad food habits. The UK represents the biggest amount of obese people in Europe – almost 25% of the population in 2012.

According to a recent study by the OCDE:

"These taxes generate important revenues. Such a move should be combined with subsudies in healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables"

As recalls Dr Oliver Mytton, all these measures are not enough to completely erase obesity.

We're not saying, and I don't think anybody is saying, that these taxes are a panacea and will cure obesity […] We're just saying they're an important measure that should be pursued along with other measures"

The latest forecasts of the OCDE show that the share of overweight people in the UK could join the one of the United States by 2020.

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