Tax and Lose

Peter Mills , 17 Nov 2010

So, the Danes are going to tax unhealthy, energy dense foods. They are legislating to drive behaviour change. It's interesting that there are so many vociferous opponents to such an approach. There are few that would debate the fact that the "obesity epidemic" in the UK is going to have a profound impact upon the cost of delivering healthcare in the years to come. In addition there is incontrovertible evidence to show that increasing taxation on tobacco had a real and sustained impact upon smoking rates within the population. So why the reticence to use the same approach to foods that we know are contributing to the nutritional imbalance that is so prevalent in society as whole?  

I guess the major difference between the two scenarios is that there are absolutely no positive health benefits from smoking, whereas we do all have to eat...its just a question of what we choose to eat!

A number of organisations have chosen to get involved in such "choice architecture" experiments and our government should be encouraged to take a look at the impact of such measures as differential pricing in canteens and changing what is available in vending machines.

One of the major concerns about taxing unhealthy foods is that it disadvantages less well off individuals. But what if that tax was "re-invested" in subsidising healthier options? Although there is not a great deal of information on such approaches anecdotally such initiatives do seem to "nudge" people into making healthier choices. It's certainly something worth thinking about the next time the corporate canteen provision is next reviewed. And while you're at it how about replacing the biscuits and pastries that are provided at company meetings with fresh fruit?

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re: Tax and Lose

01 Mar 2011

Much of health management is about leadership and example. If it is about introducing an EAP or any health management initiative there is good information to show that support from the top is a major ingredient of success. If the board is eating fruit then it is a much easier 'sell'! Food is important - it is, after all, our fuel. As with all fuels the most appropriate gets the best results. Finally, if I were an employer, I would not put a tick in the box to say 'done health' - I would make any healthy eating programme a part of a wider coherent health management initiative.

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