Is now the time to tax unhealthy food and drinks?

Is now the time to tax unhealthy food and drinks?

The UK Government must face the “mounting evidence” in support of taxes on unhealthy food and drinks, according to the authors of a new report.

The paper, published by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC), concludes that the growing obesity epidemic must be tackled by making unhealthy products with low nutritional value more expensive to reduce their consumption.

After receiving evidence from six countries that have introduced taxes, the authors claim taxes can reduce purchases of food and drinks with high levels of fat, sugar and salt and raise revenue that could be targeted to fight obesity and related diseases.

Authors Dr Laura Cornelsen and Angela Carriedo say the need for diet changes is “beyond doubt” with obesity and diet-related disease on the rise.

Dr Cornelsen, a Research Fellow at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was invited by the FRC to write the paper, said:

“Statistics on our health status consistently show that nutrition-related health in the UK is not getting any better, so it seems that whatever has been done so far is not enough.”

“Measures such as taxes should be more seriously considered, as consumers do take prices into account when buying food.”

“However, it’s important not to have illusions that a tax alone will magically solve our nutrition-related health problems.”

“While not a silver bullet, a well-designed tax has potential for positive health impact if implemented in combination with other strategies and policies that aim to improve our food environment, tackle obesity and nutrition related disease.”

The paper aims to create a clearer understanding of the impact of taxes and uses preliminary evidence from Hungary, Denmark, France, Finland, Mexico and USA (Berkeley, California).

The authors say lessons should be learned from overseas but stress the long-term impact of taxes on consumption is yet to be evaluated.

The report states: “While the current evidence is mounting, there are still considerable gaps in the knowledge and uncertainty surrounding the impact of such taxes.”

They also say work must be done to establish public opinion and support, while backing is also needed from politicians and the food industry, which is “strongly opposed” to the concept.

Director of Food Active, Robin Ireland, has welcomed the research stating that it makes a “valuable contribution” towards the on-going debate around food and drink taxes.

“As Food Active campaigns across the North of England to raise awareness of, and advocate for, measures that will tackle the root causes of obesity, this research makes a valuable contribution to our efforts.”

“This research builds upon the existing evidence base which increasingly suggests that taxes and other fiscal instruments may make a strong and effective contribution to the fight against the nation’s expanding waistlines.”

Click here to find out more about the FRC research.

Print this article


Find out more about the Food Active team and the Food Active Network

What we Do

Find out more about our programme of work and our priorities

Policy Change

Explore our work on influencing policy both locally and nationally


Discover our range of campaigns to promote behaviour change


Find out more about our research to understand and explore the food environment


Get up to speed with our past conferences and events programme