Food for thought?

food and diet

Just an idea:

Not necessarily a new thought, but on that appears to have lost support in this challenging economic time. Raise taxes on food classed as “fast” and on products that have extremely high rates of sugar and salt content. Use the money, directly, to enable lower taxes on fruit, vegetables and lean meat. These new tax revinues should only be used to lower taxes on good fresh food. Shouts of injustice and unfairness over making cheap food more expensive can be consoled by the rise of cheap and healthy meals and food plans from our supermarkets, green-grocers and butchers. Just an idea.

The BBC on the 24th of February of this year announced that “The UK is seeing an explosion in diabetes linked to obesity rates”… and poor diet. The report that it was quoting from; The Journal of Epistemology and Community Health Report, suggests that rates of diabetes are increasing faster  in the United Kingdom than they are in the USA, “where prevalence of the disease is already one of the highest in the world.” The report goes further to suggest that poor diet and related factors such as obesity were the primary causes of this steep rise.

If you were to work out the finances of this rise, and the impact that the disease is having on our national healthcare system you would find that the NHS spends almost £1 million an hour treating the disease, around 10% of its yearly budget.  A government spokesman speaking about the issue suggests that this funding allowed more people suffering the disease to get the support, advice and treatment required to prevent or delay complications.

This of course is a necessity. The NHS would not by a true healthcare system if it did not provide such services, however Anne Milton, the Shadow Health Minister suggests that “…we need to see proactive policies which look to reduce obesity” and improve diet, rather than policies that “simply treat the effects of it.”

Another paragraph and another diet related illness; this time heart disease. This is by far the UK’s biggest killer: In 2002 heart disease caused 39% of the deaths in the United Kingdom, and killed just under 238,000 people. (Source; British Heart Foundation)It is very important to remember the human cost of this disease, more than one third of fatalities in Britain are a direct result of HD, and thus almost everyone will know or have known a sufferer, some more than others. However on a rather cold, economic note, the disease costs the national healthcare system over £1.7 billion a year.

Moreover, the British Heart Foundation suggests that the majority of economic costs from the disease “fall outside healthcare and are due to illness and death in those of working age and the economic effects of their families and friends who care for them.” (In 2006, production losses due to heart disease cost the UK an estimated £8.6 billion)

Both diseases have direct links to poor diet and obesity, and can be helped and prevented by better eating habits and better exercise. As long ago as 1994, a government report stated that a reduction in fat and sodium intake and an increase in lean meat, vegetables and fruit could seriously lower the potency of both Heart Disease and Diabetes so why has so little been done? A few policies led by the Conservative Party such as a rebalance of the tax system, might just be the first of many steps in combating not only an expensive range of preventable illnesses but also the awful grief and unhappiness that follow them.

Daniel Cole


10 thoughts on “Food for thought?

  1. It is a good idea, raise tax on fatty foods, lower them on good food however economically this can create problems also i dont think the answer lies in tax.

    Firstly with the bulk of our food coming from CAP and the EU, this would mean talks with the EU and how this good food can actually be lowered in taxes. Also also of fast food outlets use good meat as their original product, its the batter etc they then use which make it unhealthy, hence it can be hard to get the proper equilibrium level of tax.

    Also I feel that in all honesty, if an obese person wants to have a burger king, they are not going to be put off by a rise by 10p etc in tax, if it was even that onto their food, i know I probably wouldnt even notice!

    I think the answer, however unpopular this may prove, is a long term one, and that is tackling peoples eating habbits. People do not want to cook their own food, they want it quick and easy and now. This is what fast food and ready meals has done to our society.

    Ive said this many a time but the media are taking these frankly shocking statistics and using them to create a panic in the government. What is needed is a good long term plan to get Britain healthy again.

    The change for life campaign could be improved however I would not be one to say its ‘too little too late’ because its never too late.

    Alot of people who become diabetic or have heart disease is due to long term bad health from eating badly. Thats the lifestyle we need to change.

    In the home, at school and in the Media, I feel although unpopular, some real shocking material is needed to shock people, make them realise what they are doing to themselves, but this must be done in co-ordination with the department of health, education dep and the treasury.

  2. Dan, I like this idea. Practicalities aside, I think it’s important to ‘nudge’ people in the right direction. A bias in the tax system should be one element in a broader effort to encourage people to eat well.

  3. Actually, I’ve decided the practicalities are too great.

    I think much stricter control of what children eat at school and the extension of physical exercise is probably the best way forward.

  4. Thanks for a fantastic post Daniel, you sure did offer lots of food for thought!

    If we’re going to have taxes they may aswell have some long-term health benefits which will consequently lead to less money invested into the NHS. One would hope that taxes on beverages are made for the same reasons?! One of the main priorities of the state should be the health of the nation, which incidently leads to the important role of defence.

  5. The rise is not just due to increased FAT in diets, it’s also due to an increased overall calorific intake -in short -people eat too much and don’t do enough exercise. The problem with society today is that we want to eat unseasonal fruit & veg -yes, a bunch of grapes is going to be expensive some of the time, but an apple may not be. Personally, and I understand that I am in the minority, I disagree with any sort of effort to force people to eat one food or another. Provided people are educated to know the virtues of a balanced diet and exercise, I don’t think it’s the government’s role to try to nanny people.

    Education, not tax, is the way forward. Having said that, I agree with the sentiment of the blog.

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