Campaigners call for a ‘CALORIE TAX’ on processed foods

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Chocolate, cakes and biscuits should be taxed if they contain too many calories, health campaigners say.

Action on Sugar and Action on Salt are calling for a law similar to the fizzy drink sugar tax to be applied to high-calorie foods.

Processed snacks should be limited to how many calories they can have per 100g before manufacturers are forced to pay extra to sell them, they argue.

The groups say cutting back sugar is not enough to tackle obesity – two thirds of adults are now overweight in the UK as well as almost a third of children.

Applying a similar calorie tax in the UK to one used in Mexico could raise the cost of a pack of McVities milk chocolate digestives – which contain 495kcal per 100g – from £1.50 to £1.62. By the same rule a 400g jar of Nutella could increase from £2.90 to £3.13, or a 500ml tub of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream from £3 to £3.24

Applying a similar calorie tax in the UK to one used in Mexico could raise the cost of a pack of McVities milk chocolate digestives – which contain 495kcal per 100g – from £1.50 to £1.62. By the same rule a 400g jar of Nutella could increase from £2.90 to £3.13, or a 500ml tub of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream from £3 to £3.24

‘The UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy has been remarkable and unique in that it allows for significant product reformulation by manufacturers in order to avoid paying the levy,’ said the campaign groups’ chairman, Professor Graham MacGregor.

‘The same could be achieved in creating a levy to reduce excess calories but we need a firm commitment from HM Treasury and The Department of Health and Social Care to make this a reality.’

The campaigners haven’t suggested what a suitable amount of calories would be but gave the example of a tax in Mexico where the limit is 275kcal per 100g.

This is placed on foods including sweets and chocolate, and if manufacturers go over the limit they pay eight per cent more tax on the products.

Applying the same rule in the UK could raise the cost of a pack of McVities milk chocolate digestives – which contain 495kcal per 100g – from £1.50 to £1.62.

By the same rule a 400g jar of Nutella could increase from £2.90 to £3.13, or a 500ml tub of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream from £3 to £3.24.

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The above estimates – based on Tesco online prices – assume the eight per cent tax rise would be added directly onto the items’ shelf prices.

Fatty foods like biscuits and cakes are just as bad as sugar at adding extra junk calories into people's diets, say experts who want a tax like the one on fizzy drinks to be applied to foods which are too high in calories (stock image)

Fatty foods like biscuits and cakes are just as bad as sugar at adding extra junk calories into people’s diets, say experts who want a tax like the one on fizzy drinks to be applied to foods which are too high in calories (stock image)

The reasoning behind the move, the campaigners say, is that both fat and sugar should be targeted because fat contributes so many calories to people’s diets.

Sugar is already being targeted by Public Health England in a scheme calling on companies to voluntarily cut their sugar content back by 20 per cent by 2020. 

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.

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But Katharine Jenner, campaign director at the Action groups, said: ‘Manufacturers are simply not doing enough.

‘If the government is really committed to helping… they need to tackle the food industry and a feasibility study needs to be undertaken without delay.

‘An “excess calorie levy” would encourage manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their unhealthy foods and, most importantly, tackle the thousands who suffer the consequences of a poor diet, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.’

The proposed levy would follow in the footsteps of the sugar tax, which saw soft drinks manufacturers face paying more if they refused to reformulate their drinks.

Companies including Coca Cola now have to pay an extra 18p per litre in tax if their product contains more than 5g of sugar per 100ml. If it’s more than 8g the added tax rises to 24p per 100ml.

This led to drinks including Fanta, Lucozade, Dr Pepper and Vimto being recreated to reduce the sugar content and avoid the tax.

The tax raised £340million in its first year, Professor MacGregor said, which the Government has pledged to spend on improving children’s health.

And the campaigners argued reformulating foods like cakes and biscuits is ‘easily achievable’.

They backed this up with research showing fat content in chocolate cakes on sale in the UK varies widely, from 12.2g sugar per 100g of cake to 27.5g.

In Victoria sponge cakes there was variation from 8.5g to 24.7g, while fat in rich tea biscuits varied from 1.2g to 7.2g per 100g.

The campaigners said overweight children in the UK tend to consume between 140 and 500 calories more than they need to each day.

This is the equivalent of up to two Mars bars on top of their approximately 1,500-2,000kcal from other meals and snacks.

Being overweight or obese in childhood makes it more likely that someone will continue to be so as an adult, raising their risk of heart disease or cancer.

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Roberta Alessandrini, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London added: ‘Our data shows that cakes and biscuits contain an excessive amount of fat and saturated fat which provide most of the calories in these products.

‘Calorie reduction in these products could be achieved through the addition of fruit, vegetables and whole grains that contain dietary fibre which has demonstrated positive health effects.’

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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