Further Taxes on Unhealthy Food Not the Way to Reduce Obesity, Argues Celebrity Chef

Wednesday 2nd May 2018

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has argued that further taxation on unhealthy foods should be “used very sparingly” as part of measures to reduce obesity in the United Kingdom.

Oliver, along with chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall provided evidence to the Select Committee for Health and Social Care, about the effects government policy has had on the consumption of sugar and unhealthy food. Both chefs held up sachets of sugar to demonstrate how much was in a soft drink before or after the tax.

Oliver, giving evidence on the effects of the Sugar Tax, explained that the money raised is ring-fenced for schools in the most disadvantaged of communities to provide sports and breakfast clubs, which equates to around £250,000,000 going towards these causes.

He also explained that there was some logic to opening the sugar tax to milk products, which are currently exempt from the sugar tax, but are filled with sugar and other additives.

Mr Oliver expressed his belief that the British people largely make “brilliant” choices when given clear information, but the issue is that people largely do not have a choice despite the concept of choice being talked about so much in the debate. People who used petrol stations, vending machines or supermarkets in poor areas where they only sell unhealthy food do not have a choice of what they could eat.

Oliver suggested legislation that requires that for every deal that is provided for junk food, there is one for fresh healthy food and asked for clarity on the government’s plan to reduce obesity.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a fellow celebrity chef, also talked to the Select Committee, voicing concerns about eating habits that could cause obesity. Fearnley-Whittingstall noted with concern that people are not eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, and whilst fruit sales are mildly increasing, vegetable sales are falling.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall argued that the solution would lie in education, information and promotion. He argued that Ofsted, the governing body for schools in the UK, should also assess school meals that are provided as well as food education. As well as this, he argued that food advertising is key, as currently under 0.2% of food advertising in Britain focuses on fruit and vegetables.

The benefits, he argued are huge as they would save a large amount of public money which then could be used to fund other initiatives. He also argued that people do not want to be unhealthy and if the healthy choice becomes the much easier choice people will take it. He also criticised approaches that focused on one single solution, arguing that everything should be done to help, citing how some of the larger supermarkets in the country have removed sweets and fizzy drinks from the shelves closes to the checkout, in order to avoid the influence of pester power.

There may well be further initiatives to roll out, but it will be necessary to see the effects of the sugar tax before extending policies further.