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The UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit is thinking about extending VAT on some less healthy foods.

A document seen by The Times newspaper indicates that extra duty could be imposed on foods such as burgers, potato crisps, carbonated soft drinks, butter and full-fat milk.

The move would be part of an attempt to fight obesity, which is driving higher rates of heart disease and diabetes. Obesity in the UK has risen from under 10% of the population to more than 20% since the 1980s.

“Some of the risks associated [with obesity], such as cardiovascular disease, can be mitigated to some extent with drugs, and NHS expenditure on these is rising rapidly. However, the main drivers — poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle — are largely outside the direct influence of the NHS [National Health Service],” according to the document obtained by The Times.

The unit is also considering a drive to promote sports in and out of school to get children more active. It is also looking at more draconian labelling regulations for less healthy foods to emphasise the importance of good nutrition.

Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the industry body the Food and Drink Federation, said: “A so-called “fat tax” levied on specific food types would hit lower income families, be patronising to consumers and would be a tax on choice. Many food products already attract VAT. A “fat tax” would operate like a poll tax on food penalising lower income families who spend a higher proportion of their income on food and drink.”