After the sugar tax, now government mulls ‘CALORIE TAX’ on chocolate, cake and biscuits to curb rising obesity rates

  • Action on Sugar and Action on Salt have called for the Government to take action
  • They said the tax on sugary drinks should be extended to high-calorie foods 
  • Fatty foods like cakes and biscuits are a big source of calories and an obesity risk
  • The campaigners used the example of Mexico’s limit of 275kcal per 100g 

Ministers are being urged to consider putting a ‘calorie tax’ on cakes, biscuits and other processed food.   

Health campaigners say a mandatory levy on sugary and fatty food is needed to tackle the obesity crisis.

It follows the success of the sugar tax, which came into force last year and means fizzy drink manufacturers are taxed at up to 24p a litre.

Campaign groups Action On Sugar and Action On Salt are urging the Government to extend the levy to all high-calorie processed foods including ice cream, biscuits, cakes and chocolate bars.    

They say this will hold manufacturers to account and lead to products with ‘excessive’ calories being reformulated with less fat and sugar to make them healthier. 

Under the proposals, food firms would pay the levy and then decide whether to pass on the cost to consumers. 

The tax would be based on the ‘traffic light’ nutritional labelling system that shows foods high in sugar, salt or fat.

So, for example, a cake that is extremely high in calories could be taxed at around 24p per kg (just over 10p per lb).

Campaigners are demanding that funds raised through the levy are ring-fenced and put towards tackling childhood obesity.

They said fat is a bigger contributor to calories in the diet than sugar and it is therefore essential that manufacturers are encouraged to reduce both. Two-thirds of UK adults and one in five children aged 11 are obese.

WHAT IS THE SUGAR TAX? 

From April 2018, soft drinks companies have been required to pay a levy on drinks with added sugar.

If a drink contains between 5g and 8g of sugar per 100ml the tax is 18p per litre, whereas if a drink has more than 8g of sugar per 100ml, the tax is 24p.

Fruit juices and milk are not included in the tax.

The move aims to help tackle childhood obesity. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are now the single biggest source of dietary sugar for children and teenagers.

Some drinks, including Fanta, Lucozade, Sprite, Dr Pepper and Vimto, had their recipes changed so they contained less than 5g of sugar and the price did not need to be put up.

However, others like Coca Cola and Pepsi refused to reduce the amount of sugar and, as a result, the price of them increased.

The Government has predicted the levy will raise £240million a year, which will be spent on sports clubs and breakfast clubs in schools.

The sugar tax raised £153.8m in the first six months after it was introduced, between April and October 2018.

Katharine Jenner, campaign director of Action On Sugar and Action On Salt, said: ‘If you want people to make healthier choices, you have to hit them in the pocket where it hurts. Unhealthy food taxes are proven to be successful. It means you can still buy a massive cake covered in cream and chocolate, but it’s just going to cost a bit more.

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‘Cakes and biscuits are really sugary foods and they’re currently under a sugar reduction programme from Public Health England. But it doesn’t make sense to just incentivise manufacturers to reduce sugar when most of the calories come from saturated fat.’  

Campaigners said that the huge variation in fat levels within cakes and biscuits indicates that making the products healthier is easily achievable. In Rich Tea biscuits, saturated fat ranges from 1.2g to 7.2g per 100g, while the fat content of Victoria sponges varies from 8.5g to 24.7g per 100g, a study found.

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action On Sugar and Action On Salt, said the success of the sugar tax had been ‘remarkable’ in making brands such as Irn-Bru and Lucozade cut sugar content.

The lobby group will submit its proposal for a calorie tax to the Department of Health this autumn. The sugar tax on soft drinks was introduced in April last year and is said to have taken 90million kg – 90,000 tons – of sugar out of the nation’s diet so far.

However Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously decried ‘sin taxes’ on sugary and fatty foods, warning they hit the poor hardest. During the Tory leadership campaign he vowed to freeze such levies. The Department of Health said it has no plans to introduce a calorie tax.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING TO STOP OBESITY? 

Proposed plans to restrict the number of calories in pizzas, pies and ready meals were last year revealed as part of drastic Government moves to try and cut down on obesity.

A tax on added sugar in drinks came into force in April, requiring companies to hand over more of the money they make from drinks which contain more than 5g of sugar per 100ml of liquid.

As a result, many soft drinks have had their recipes changed in order to avoid paying the tax and putting prices up. Sugary drinks are the biggest single source of sugar for children and teenagers.

The Government is also considering making it compulsory for all restaurants and fast food outlets to display the number of calories in each meal on their menu.

Some food outlets already do this but there can be unexpected numbers of calories in popular dishes, and the Government is consulting on the plans before a decision is due in spring.

In March this year, Public Health England warned Brits to crack down on the number of calories they’re eating, advising people to consume no more than 1,600 per day.

The watchdog says adults shouldn’t eat any more than 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner – this would allow for some snacks, experts said.

Examples of 600-calorie meals include a tuna pasta salad and a small cereal bar, a chicken salad sandwich and a pack of crisps, or half a pepperoni pizza with a quarter of a garlic baguette and a banana.



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