The UK cash grad won't reduce intended flab
// Leah Scheitel

Want to save some money? Then don’t buy the cheese.

This may soon be the case in the United Kingdom, where the government is debating whether or not to follow the model of the Danish Fat Tax that was imposed last week. The fat tax places a surcharge on foods that contain more than 2.3% saturated fat. This tax is intended to target foods rich in fat like cheese, butter, milk, oils, meats, and highly processed foods.

The Danish tax adds about 16 kroner to every pound of saturated fat. If the UK follows this guideline, it will add approximately £2 for every 2.2 lbs of saturated fat in the food. The new tax has been criticized for being economically unfriendly, as imported foods are taxed on the saturated fats they contain and domestic foods are taxed twice: first for how much fat is in the product, and secondly for how much saturated fat is used in the preparation. This doesn’t help the local economy, or promote environmentally friendly eating habits.

There is also little research to support that a diet low in saturated fats will actually reduce someone’s weight. The public might reduce their intake of dairy, but without education and encouragement they may replace it with empty calories, such as soda and other foods high in sugar. This tax also misses out on alcohol: while fat contains nine calories per gram, alcohol has the next highest count with seven calories per gram. If there is a regulation imposed on saturated fats, and not on alcohol or foods with high sugar counts, it will cause wallets to shrink but waistlines to stay the same size.

“As a doctor specializing in weight problems, my first concern is that fat, saturated or not, is fat,” says Dr. Ian Campbell, medical director at the obesity charity Weight Concern in an interview with the Mirror. “Saturated fat is less healthy than unsaturated fat, but it's no less calorific. And why should a 100 g chocolate bar with 8.8 per cent unsaturated fat be taxed less than a 100 g bar with 2.2 per cent saturated fat?” He is also concerned about the amount of sugar and salt in the food, “but a fat tax won’t do anything to reduce that,” he concludes.

With the highest obesity in Europe, the British government has been warning it could become a national epidemic. “Obesity could be as big a crisis as climate change unless the nation starts to lose weight soon,” Labour health secretary Alan Johnson warned in 2007.

In an interview with 5 News, Prime Minister David Cameron stated, “Do we have a problem with the growing level of obesity? Yes. Do we have a kind of warning in terms of – look at America, how bad things have got there – what happens if we don’t do anything?”

The UK government says that they will use the money gained from the tax to fund programs to teach the public on healthy choices and lifestyles.

Nearly 25 per cent of the adult population in the UK is obese. This is the highest rate in Europe, and is more than twice the rate in Denmark, which has the lowest obesity rate in the EU. Critics of the tax don’t believe that this initiative will lower obesity levels, and argue that creating policies to make healthy living an easier option for those at risk would be a more effective change. Ideas include reducing the tax rate on healthy foods to make them more affordable, and giving tax benefits for gym memberships.

It is undeniable that there is a growing obesity problem. A new survey showed that 1.7 billion adults in the world are now obese. However a tax on saturated-fat heavy foods will not fulfill its intention. Without proper knowledge on healthy food and lifestyles, the tax will cost the public more, and make local farmers pay more to produce the same foods as foreign farmers

// Leah Scheitel, Writer
// Illustration by Sarah Taylor

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