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Doctors reject unfair 'fat tax’

The idea of a fat tax on unhealthy food was rejected because it would have an unfair impact on people from a disadvantaged background.

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.

However, Newcastle foundation year 1 Zoe Greaves argued against taxing unhealthy food.

Although she pointed out that 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?’

‘Unfair tax by nanny state’

Cleveland GP Julie-Anne Birch also opposed a tax: ‘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 had argued that there was no one simple answer to countering the rise in obesity. Children should be taught at a young age about nutrition and food labelling needed to be clearer to help people make healthy choices, she said.

‘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,’ Dr Harding said.

‘Poorest already paying the price’

Sheffield medical student Anna Watkinson-Powell said big business spent a lot of money on marketing and lobbying. ‘The medical profession needs to shout even louder. We must not be afraid to take a hard stand,’ she said.

Dr Harding said the cheap pricing of foods with unhealthier salt and fat content had a disproportionate impact on the poorest. ‘They already pay the price – we are just making them pay the price with their health.’

The meeting rejected a new tax on unhealthy food but called on 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
  • Make nutritional education a compulsory part of the national school curricula.

BMA campaigns for action on obesity