The introduction of a ‘fat’ tax on unhealthy foods could prevent more than 3,000 heart attack and stroke deaths every year, it has been claimed.
The study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at food consumption in the UK and how price rises would affect buying habits.
Researchers first applied VAT to dairy products containing high levels of saturated fats, such as whole butter and cheese, baked goods and puddings.
The second approach was to apply a tax to foods with a high ‘unhealthiness score’ – known as the SSCg3d score.
Spinach scored -12 on the scale while chocolate digestive biscuits scored +29. Researchers looked at taxing foods with a score over nine.
The third approach was to introduce a tax on a wider range of products with the aim of cutting the intake of fat, salt and sugar.
The calculations showed that the first approach of applying VAT to foodstuffs high in saturated fats would increase salt intake instead.
This could actually increase deaths from heart disease and stroke and would also increase weekly household food expenditure by 3.2 per cent.
But taxing foods attracting a high SSCg3d score would prevent around 2300 deaths a year and add 4 per cent to weekly food bills.
The third approach would prevent up to 3200 deaths and boost weekly household food expenditure by 4.6 per cent or £0.67 a person a week.
The study warned that while food taxes would change dietary habits and cut deaths, they would need to be ‘carefully targeted to prevent unhealthy compensatory behaviour in food choices.’
* Which? has produced handy food shopping card to see at a glance if the foods in your shopping basket get a red, amber or green light for fat, sugar and salt.