Would a tax on foods that are unhealthy make us think twice?


An interesting article was put out by Reuters today detailing a debate that is currently taking place in the UK regarding whether to tax sugary drinks and place limitations on their promotion as a means of combating childhood obesity. Apparently the Prime Minister does not favour this plan and instead intends to introduce a national childhood obesity strategy early in the New Year.

What strikes me about this article is that it is the first time that I have seen a suggestion that we should tax unhealthy food in the same manner that alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes are taxed. As much as we grumble about these “sin” taxes, I don’t think that there is much evidence that they actually discourage consumption. (My own grandmother always bought shares in tobacco companies and liquor distributors reasoning that they were the last two things anyone would give up in an economic crisis!) On the contrary, there are a few blokes I can think of who might pass up their veggies altogether in favour of a single malt if finances were tight.

I was encouraged to see a government acknowledging both that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and that it is time for parents and grandparents to pay a lot more attention to what they are feeding their children; So for heaven sakes let’s start with breakfast. Since when did an icing covered gooey toaster pastry become a nutritious meal for a child? And while I am on a rant – what exactly is a “fruit roll up” anyway?

If you think I am exaggerating – go read the side of a cereal box. No, not your innocuous shredded wheat; read the ingredients listed in a popular children’s cereal such as Fruit Loops: “Sugar, corn flour blend (whole grain yellow corn flour, degerminated yellow corn flour), wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, modified food starch, soluble corn fiber, contains 2% or less of hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, natural flavor, red 40, turmeric extract color, yellow 6, blue 1, annatto extract color, BHT for freshness. Vitamin C (sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid), niacinamide, reduced iron, zinc oxide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D3.”

Hmmm … no fruit what so ever, but the number one ingredient by volume is sugar. Doesn’t sound that bad right?

So what is BHT?

You don’t know? Don’t worry, I didn’t either so I looked it up:

“BHT or butyl hydroxytoluene is a fat soluble synthetic compound which is commonly used to preserve foods and cosmetics to slow down the autoxidation rate of ingredients in a product that can cause changes in the taste or colour. As such, it is primarily used to prevent fats in foods from becoming rancid – but it is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil, and embalming fluid.” www.thegoodhuman.com

Sounds like just the sort of thing you would want your grandchild to eat doesn’t it? (And my mother threw a fit if I ate a cookie that fell on the floor).

So do I think a tax on junk food would make people eat better? No I don’t. But I do think that committing to understanding what all the ingredients on the side of the box actually are would induce people to make better choices.

What do you think?





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