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May 31, 2019

UK chief medical officer mulls tax on unhealthy food

The top medical adviser to the UK government is weighing up whether to recommend a tax on unhealthy food as part of a fresh push to tackle obesity.

By Dean Best

The top medical adviser to the UK government is weighing up whether to recommend a tax on unhealthy food as part of a fresh push to tackle obesity.

Prof. Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, has been asked by the Government to come up with new measures to help meet a target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.

The UK last year introduced a levy on the sugar on soft drinks and Dame Sally told the BBC returning to fiscal measures was among the ideas being considered.

“I want parents to be incentivised to buy healthy food,” she said. “We need to make sure that fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap. Maybe we have to subsidise them by charging more, by taxing unhealthy food. Parents are then nudged to buy the healthy version because it’s cheaper.”

However, she added: “I want the basket of food parents buy not to cost any more,” she said.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock – one of the 11 Conservative MPs that have said they will run in the race to be the party’s next leader and therefore the country’s new Prime Minister – has asked Dame Sally to publish a report by September containing a series of recommendations.

In quotes carried by The Daily Mail newspaper, Hancock said the UK had made progress in hitting the 2030 target but added: “We should not rest on our laurels. 

“We have already gone further than any other country to reduce childhood obesity. Our reformulation programmes are world-leading. Children up and down the country are running a mile a day thanks to our work with primary schools, and we are consulting on a number of new laws on advertising and promotions to make the environment healthier for our children.

“By 2030, if we want to see a real improvement to our children’s health we are going to have to use every tool in our arsenal, so today I have asked the Chief Medical Officer to report back on what else we can take forward.”

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