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Dr Tom Marshall
"You can draw parallels with tax on leaded petrol"
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BBC Reporter Sarah Pennells
"Taxing food is a primative idea"
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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 08:16 GMT
Fat tax 'could save lives'

Cheese counter Cheese is high in fat

Putting value added tax (VAT) on fatty food could prevent between 900 and 1,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, a dietary expert has said.

Most food is currently exempted from VAT.

High fat foods
Full fat milk
Dr Tom Marshall, of the University of Birmingham, has considered the impact that diet has on cholesterol concentrations in the UK population.

High levels of cholesterol are strongly linked to heart disease.

Dr Marshall, writing in the British Medical Journal, says cholesterol concentrations are increased by eating saturated or polyunsaturated fats.

He argues that a reduction in consumption would lead to a drop in the number of people suffering heart disease.

According to Dr Marshall, the main sources of saturated fat in the British diet are: full fat milk, cheese, butter, biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries, puddings and ice-cream.

He says the current pricing system encourages people to eat too many things that are bad from them.

However, if VAT were to be extended to the major culprits, Dr Marshall argues, the public would be more likely to buy cheaper, lower fat alternatives.

Low income families

Milk Full fat milk is also high in fat
He says the impact would be greatest on low income families who have to buy cheap food to survive. They could be compensated for the rise in their food bill by receiving cash raised by the extension of VAT.

But in an accompanying commentary Dr Eileen Kennedy and Dr Susan Offutt from the US Department of Agriculture cast doubt over the feasibility of Dr Marshall's idea.

They argue that he has failed to take into account genetic factors that influence susceptibility to heart disease.

They also highlight recent research that shows people who switch to lower fat alternatives tend simply to eat more, so that they end up taking on board the same levels of fat anyway.

Acknowledging that people largely enjoy foods that are high in fat is vital, as few people would seriously consider avoiding these foods altogether
British Heart Foundation
Finally, they also question whether people would be put off unhealthy items simply because they had gone up in price.

They suggest that a better solution would be to introduce food that helps to reduce cholesterol concentrations into the diet.

The British Heart Foundation said more action should be taken to help prevent people developing coronary heart disease.

But, in a statement, the foundation said it opposed the idea of taxing fatty foods.

The statement said: "Our diets, and the foods we eat, are both complex.

"Individual foods that are high in fat, eaten occasionally, within the context of a balanced diet that is low in overall fat should not pose a health risk for the majority of people.

"Also, acknowledging that people largely enjoy foods that are high in fat is vital, as few people would seriously consider avoiding these foods altogether."

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See also:
09 Nov 99 |  Health
Obesity shortens life by four years
29 Oct 99 |  Health
Half unaware of cholesterol risk
14 Dec 99 |  Health
England's heart health getting worse
02 Oct 99 |  Health
High cholesterol 'could affect pregnancy'
25 May 99 |  Health
Low cholesterol linked to depression
02 Sep 99 |  Health
Suicide link to cholesterol

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