The Chief Medical Officer has said she is considering whether to recommend ‘sin taxes’ on all unhealthy food to meet the government’s targets on childhood obesity. Dame Sally Davis said that she needed to be ‘as bold as I can be’, after new figures revealed this week that more than 22,000 children leaving primary school this year are classed as ‘severely obese’.
Measures under consideration include taxes on high calorie foods such as pizza and cakes, and measures to cut the amount of sugar in baby food. ‘I want parents to be incentivised to buy healthy food,’ said Dame Sally. ‘We need to make sure that fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap.’
Dame Sally’s remarks came as two large European studies published in the BMJ linked consumption of ‘ultra-processed’ foods such as pizzas, chicken nuggets and ice cream with increased risk of heart disease and early death. Defining ultra-processed foods, as ones which contain more than five ingredients, studies in France and Spain followed subjects over 10 years, and found that eating more than four portions of such foods a day was associated with adverse health effects.
Researchers recommend that policy makers ‘should shift their priorities away from food reformulation - which risks positioning ultra-processed food as a solution to dietary problems - towards a greater emphasis on promoting the availability, affordability, and accessibility of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.’