Junk food tax is outrageous!

Updated on 11 April 2011 | 0 Comments

Experts want to tax our junk food. Daniel Culpan thinks it's outrageous.

Experts want fast food and soft drinks taxed to curb growing rates of obesity and diabetes.  But isn’t this just another misguided move from the finger-wagging nanny state?

‘Health crisis’

This week, London’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, claimed that a tax on junk food should be introduced to tackle a nationwide ‘epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease’.

The scheme would slap tax specifically on salt, alcohol, sugar and saturated fats, directly increasing the cost of fast food, ready meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

 Yet the initiative, designed to discourage consumers and pressure retailers into stocking healthier alternatives, would also affect less obvious products.  Items such as bread, which contributes a significant amount of your recommended GDA of salt, would also rise in price.


I think that this attempt at social engineering is just another money-spinning attack on the wallet of the average worker, attacking the symptom rather than the cause.

Under the measures, levying the tax at a penny a gram for sugar, saturated fats and alcohol, and a penny a tenth of a gram for salt, a Big Mac would rise in price from £2.49 to £2.88.  But the move would also increase the price of a healthier portion of Chicken McNuggets from £2.49 to £2.58. 

In the logic of this blanket tax, then, the healthy option also suffers.  Everyone is made to pay regardless of how healthy your diet may otherwise be.   This is less successful influencing of consumer behaviour and more po-faced policing.

Everything in moderation

Furthermore, dividing foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is surely a crude and simplistic way of measuring health benefits – not to mention it is scientifically flawed.  As any nutritionist would willingly tell you, salt and alcohol are not fattening in themselves, just as Mars Bars eaten in moderation isn’t going to directly lead to morbid obesity. 

Why not include red meat or cheese under the ‘unhealthy’ list of food untouchables? It is bigoted to spare the educated middle-class consumer this class-specific demonization – even if their habits are shown to be just as suspect.

Class prejudice

There is undeniably a class prejudice at issue here – and studies confirm it.  Continually, it has been shown that it is the poorest sectors of society who eat more unhealthily and thus are hit by the highest levels of related health problems.  There are several factors to take into account for this inequality, such as lack of education about nutrition, lack of money to afford more expensive, organic food and lack of access to exercise.

But these are all deeper underlying issues that won’t be simply solved through tax-happy pressure.  Pricing the poor out of buying quick, affordable meals and assuming that the more privileged and educated shopper will know better is heavy-handed and self-defeating.

It’s not just poor people who eat junk food!  In an age when people are increasingly pushed for time, what is considered ‘junk’ is usually the convenient option.  People who work 10 hours in an office or nurses on night shifts are just as likely to throw a ready meal in the microwave or chuck a pie and chips in the oven as anyone else.  Pointing the finger at only one section of society - those who can be influenced by small price increases - disguises the real problem.


In my view, the junk food tax is just another way in which consumers are infantilised in order to fatten the public coffers while claiming to be downsizing the national waistline.  We are constantly bombarded with contradictory health information from busybody government think tanks and medical practitioners, turning the consumption of food into something neurotic and scare-mongering.

 One week we’re told tuna is ‘brainfood’, the next that it’s toxic.  We’re implored to eat our ‘5 a day’ fruit and vegetables like some counting ritual, then told we should actually be eating 8.  Oh, and do you know that eating too many grapes is as unhealthy as scoffing a chocolate bar?


Government hypocrisy is also another spectacle to make the stomach turn.  Adopting the tax would earn the Treasury £38bn a year, which could pay for one-third of the NHS bill.  But the government already rakes in a sizeable share of money from tax on cigarettes, one of the first ‘junk’ products the government clamped down on, so the message is curiously mixed. 

But if we all pay our taxes, why should we be bullied and puritanically pestered about what we choose to put on our plates or in our bodies?

Tell us what you think

Junk food tax appears to me to be another bigoted and dimly muddled money-making exercise from a cash-strapped government.  But do you think it's a good idea? Please share your opinion using the comments box below!

Also worthy of your attention:

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Forget your 5-a-day – you now need 8-a-day!


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