The British Medical Association has proposed a 17.5% Value Added Tax on foods with a high fat content in a bid to fight obesity in the UK.

A GP’s conference this week is set to discuss a motion by Dr Martin Breach which was quoted by BBC News Online as saying: “Given the epidemic of obesity related disease in the UK, this conference strongly supports the concept of a tax on saturated fats, in effect a VAT on fat.”

“The UK is facing an epidemic of obesity and obesity-related disorders,” Breach, who is on the BMA committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“A fifth of men are obese and very nearly a quarter of women in the UK are obese and this figure is expected to rise further.”

Obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, cost the National Health Service over £500m (US$825.9m) a year.

Opponents of such a tax say it would hurt low-income families who tend to eat proportionally larger amounts of cheap, high-fat food.

All other EU countries except Ireland currently impose varying degrees of VAT on food. In the UK food is exempt from VAT, except for hot takeaways such as hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a similar tax has been proposed in Australia by the Australian Medical Association. Vice-president Mukesh Haikerwal said a tax on fatty food could be the “shock tactic” needed to solve the obesity problem, reported the Herald Sun.