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Welfare payments for claimants with obesity-related illnesses have more than doubled in five years, highlighting the obesity crisis in Britain. Almost 12,000 people received Disability Living Allowance last year because they have metabolic disease, the medical term for a combination of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, at a cost to the taxpayer of £54million.

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Obesity is also a massive burden on the NHS and costs the health service more than £9billion a year. The Department for Work and Pensions statistics show that the number of claimants with metabolic disease has more than doubled from around 5,500 five years ago.

Health experts predict that by 2050 the annual bill for obesity-related illnesses will have risen to £50billion a year, with almost two-thirds of the population obese.

“This obesity crisis in the West is a far worse health catastrophe than Ebola”

Julia Manning, from the think tank 2020health, said: “This obesity crisis in the West is a far worse health catastrophe than Ebola but there has been no government urgent action, even though we see the benefits bill spiralling.”

Nearly one in five British secondary school pupils and a quarter of adults are obese, according to officials figures.

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Time for a Fat Tax?

Back in 2012, research published in the British Medical Journal said that “Fat taxes” would have to increase the price of unhealthy food and drinks by as much as 20% in order to cut consumption by enough to reduce obesity and other diet-related diseases.

Academics led by Dr Oliver Mytton and Dr Mike Rayner of the Department of Public Health at Oxford University suggested that such levies should be accompanied by subsidies on healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables to help encourage a significant shift in dietary habits.

Research in the US found that a 35% tax on drinks sweetened with sugar sold in a canteen, which added about 28p to the price, led to a 26% drop in sales.

Studies have estimated that a 20% levy on such drinks in the US would cut obesity by 3.5% and that adding 17.5% to the cost of unhealthy food products in the UK could lead to 2,700 fewer deaths from heart disease.

The National Heart Forum’s (NHF), a leading health charity that is part-funded by the Department of Health, has urged ministers to put extra taxes on unhealthy foods such as sugary soft drinks to tackle growing obesity.

“Carefully applied food taxes are both cost-effective and justified”

“Carefully applied food taxes are both cost-effective and justified to help tackle the spiralling costs and huge social burdens of non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes caused by over-consumption of unhealthy foods high in fat, sugar and salt,” said Jane Landon, the NHF’s deputy chief executive.

“Fat taxes” are increasingly popular internationally. David Cameron said in 2011 that the UK would consider introducing them, but the Department of Health simply pledged to “keep all international evidence under review” and restated its backing for its controversial system of voluntary initiatives with the food and drink industries.

I am forever reading the belief that healthy food is too expensive. Whilst I can understand this perception, it is not a belief that I share.

I believe that when we place a high enough value on health we also place value on the food we consume, yet data on family spending from the Office for National Statistics shows that the average family spends less on food than on “recreation and culture”, with just 1.5% of income spent on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Just as tobacco is highly taxed to discourage smoking and reduce the impact on the NHS, maybe it is time for processed foods with known health risks to be taxed too.

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Sources:

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