A “FAT TAX” should be added to the cost of unhealthy food and drink to reduce spiralling levels of obesity and heart disease, scientists have claimed.
Researchers from the Centre for Food Policy at London’s City University and Oxford University believe that raising the cost of junk food, including chocolate, takeaway food, biscuits and crisps, would mean up to 20 per cent fewer people buying them.
In turn, they argue, this could lead to a 3.5 per cent drop in obesity rates and around 270 fewer deaths from heart disease in Scotland every year.
The health experts say the additional tax should be combined with subsidised fruit and vegetables to have a significant effect on the nation’s health.
The research team revealed that, despite the substantial health benefits, many people opposed the tax, which they said would be difficult to enforce.
The food industry has continued to argue that the taxes would be ineffective, unfair and would ultimately damage the industry and result in job losses.
However, Dr Oliver Mytton, of Oxford University said: “Health-related food taxes could improve health as evidence suggests taxes are likely to shift consumption in the desired direction.
“The tax would need to be at least 20 per cent to have a significant effect on population health.”
He highlighted how junk food taxes had already been introduced in other European countries including Denmark, Hungary and France.
Public health specialist John Mooney, of the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy team, backed the introduction of a “fat tax” but said consumers needed access to cheaper, healthier alternatives.
He said: “There are going to be a lot of members of the public and people in the food and drinks industry who are opposed to such a tax, saying it offers them less choice and will cost them more money.
“But I believe that anything that improves public health should be seriously considered. At the same time, by reducing access to unhealthier foods, it is only fair people are offered an alternative and that is easily accessible and one they can afford.”
“Subsidising fruit and vegetables is a very good way to do this as they are costly and perishable so in order for people to opt for these healthier alternatives, they need to be affordable.”
Mr Mooney said readily available fast food was one of the biggest factors in Scotland’s obesity epidemic and said any tax would have to include these products.
He said: “These incredibly unhealthy foods are causing lasting damage and are far too readily available at too cheap a price, and this has to be tackled.”
The researchers say raising the cost of a wide range of unhealthy food would produce the most health benefits, and say evidence shows adding a financial penalty to sugary drinks would be the most beneficial.
One US study found a 35 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks on sale in staff canteens led to a 26 per cent decline in sales.
And the researchers, whose review is published in the latest British Medical Journal, highlight how an increasing number of people now support the junk food tax. They say polls from the US put support as high as seven in ten people.
A Scottish Government study out last week revealed one in ten Scots children is already clinically obese by the time they start school.
Figures from last year show that almost 12,000 people, a quarter of all deaths for 2011 in Scotland, died from heart disease or stroke.