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It’s a hard truth to swallow, but the UK has let itself go. Official government statistics claim that 61.3% of adults are overweight, and 22% are officially obese. Caused by a mixture of our lifestyles becoming more sedentary, an increase in the price of healthy food, including fruits and vegetables, and a heavy drinking culture, the so-called ‘epidemic’ of weight gain has led to huge strains on the economy, and more specifically the NHS.

Treatment of preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart problems, strokes, high blood pressure and some kinds of cancer, combine with the cost of special equipment specially purchased to handle the ever growing weights costs the NHS an estimated £5 billion a year, a figure that is predicted to double by 2050. The overall financial costs of treating obesity eclipses those spent treating diseases caused by smoking and alcoholism.

Attempts by the government to tackle these scary statistics have been initially useful but have made little long term impact – the ‘5 a day’ incentive and clear nutritional information on food packaging has helped inform the consumer about what they are eating – but hasn’t necessarily deterred them. Family friendly schemes such as Change4Life have helped some change their lifestyles.

The issue is also affecting NHS workers, who are working harder under the pressure and even putting their own lives at risk to help others. There has been an increase in cases of workers harming themselves while trying to transport morbidly obese patients, such as a paramedic who got a back strain while trying to carry a 25 stone man on a stretcher onto an ambulance.

However, a controversial for reversing the effects of the nation’s ever expanding timeline is introducing a ‘fat tax’, taxing products high in fat and sugar to discourage people buying too much of them. The phrase, based on an idea developed at Yale University in 1994, has been bandied around over the years, and in 2011 Denmark became the first country to adapt a 20% Fat Tax on food items that contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. However, England is yet to embrace the idea, with Tony Blair slamming the fat tax in 2004 claiming it would support widespread criticism that the UK has become a nanny state.

A recent study found that a 20% tax on sugary drinks, one of the biggest causes of obesity, would reduce the number of obese adults in the UK by 180,000 and decrease sugary drink consumption in general by 15%. A 500ml bottle of Coke contains 17 cubes of sugar.

However, critics have come forward to cite this as a way to increase social stigma against the obese and curb the consumer’s freedom of choice. A tax on sugary drinks would be an unpopular move by the government, but at the current unsustainable growing rate of obesity, it could be a necessary one.

But what about an overall fat tax? The tax introduced in Denmark included butter, cheese, meats, oil and pizza, and was hugely controversial, particularly amongst business owners, when it was introduced. Despite their healthier lifestyle, Denmark still has a weight problem, with 47% of Danes classed as overweight and 13% as obese.

In October 2011, the fat tax landed, forcing some to switch their favourite Danish Blue cheese and Lurpak spread to lighter options. But there was a way around the fat tax – Danes started visiting border countries in their millions to bulk buy their favourite fatty treats without the tax burden. With Sweden just a short drive away from Copenhagen and with Denmark sharing a large border with Northern Germany, it is estimated that 48% of Danes made an international trip to indulge themselves, much like England’s booze cruises to the French hypermarkets.

Retailers were hit with losses, and Denmark’s gourmet food market was damaged, alongside countless independent retailers. The unpopularity of the tax and the economic impact led to the announcement that the tax would be lifted in November 2012. Plans to also tax sugary food were subsequently cancelled.

However, Denmark’s example doesn’t necessarily mean that a fat tax is still not an option in the UK. Alternative, more specific, taxes are still being pushed forward, most recently proposals in France to apply a tax on harmful palm oil, famously an essential ingredient in Europe’s favourite spread, Nutella, to help reduce its huge impacts on the environment and the countries’ general health.

Vicky is from http://nhstaxrefund.co.uk/ and is a keen writer on the topics of current affairs, health and finance. When she is not writing she can be found running, reading or watching classic drama box sets!