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2012 December

'Junk food taxes' could improve health

10th December 2012

A new review suggests that taxing unhealthy foods and beverages could help to drive down fast food consumption and improve people's health.

Most people recognise the dangers of eating too much junk food, but it seems many are determined to keep eating these products rather than adopting a more natural and healthy diet.

Fast and processed foods tend to be laden with fat, salt, sugar and calories - all of which can contribute to excess weight gain, poor cardiovascular health and a general lack of physical wellbeing.

However, junk food is also notable for what it does not contain, as it is often completely lacking in the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our body needs to thrive and ward off disease.

Policymakers have looked at the problem of junk food from a variety of angles, including initiatives to increase the provision of nutritional information in fast food outlets and encourage corner shops to offer healthy options such as fruit.

The possibility of introducing taxes on sugary drinks and high-fat foods has also been suggested as a viable option, with many scientists saying this could help to reduce purchases of these products.

In their latest review, researchers at the Universities of Auckland and Otago in New Zealand concluded that so-called 'junk food taxes' could indeed lead to population-wide dietary changes and subsequent improvements to health.

Publishing their findings in the journal PLoS Medicine, they suggest that each one per cent increase in the cost of fatty foods could lead to a 0.02 per cent fall in energy intake from saturated fat.

Similarly, a ten per cent increase in the cost of sugary soft drinks could reduce consumption by as much as 24 per cent.

Taxes on unhealthy foods could be complemented by subsidies on healthy fruit and vegetables, with the reviewers finding that a ten per cent decrease in the price of these foods could boost their consumption by two per cent to eight per cent.

This move in particular could benefit those trying to boost their dietary intake of antioxidants by eating plenty of so-called 'superfoods', such as blueberries, pomegranate, acai and goji berries, as it could make these foods much more affordable.

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