Taxing junk food would be more effective at reducing obesity than subsidising healthy food according to a US study.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo measured how shoppers responded to higher prices of unhealthy food and lower prices of healthy foods in a simulated weekly shop.
They found that subsiding low-calorie for nutrient (LCFN) foods like fruit
and vegetables led shoppers to spend the money they saved on high-calorie for nutrient (HCFN) foods such as crisps and chocolate.
A subsidy that reduced the price of LCFN foods by 10 per cent increased the purchase of HCFN by 6.8 per cent.
In contrast, a so-called 'fat tax' that increased the price of HCFN foods by 10 per cent led to a reduction in the purchase of such foods by 14.4 per cent.
The findings suggest that policymakers should be looking towards taxes rather than subsidies to control rising rates of obesity, concluded the authors, adding that the strategy also had the benefit of generating extra tax revenue.
But campaigners have warned governments not to rush into a 'fat tax' without first considering the social implications.
'Price is clearly an important factor in the food people choose however "fat tax" is a complex issue and not without problems. A debate is needed on whether we can make them socially just,' said Jackie Schneider of Sustain.
Tom Macmillan of the Food Ethics Council agreed and said a 'fat tax' would fall heaviest on poorest households, who spend the most on food.
'It is impossible to consider taxes and the cost of food without also
considering how to tackle social inequalities, for instance through minimum wage and benefit levels,' he added.
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