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Higher taxes on HFSS products needed to tackle UK obesity crisis, says Danone chief

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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Food giant Danone has urged UK ministers to consider increasing taxes on foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to address the growing obesity crisis in the country.

James Mayer, President at Danone UK & Ireland told The Guardian: “The UK food industry’s efforts to improve the health profile of its products have not moved fast enough.

We’ve reached a point where meaningful intervention from the government is a necessary course of action.”

Mayer recommended ministers work faster to share food and drink data and encourage company transparency, bring in the already delayed restrictions on advertising of HFSS products, and consider aligning VAT rates to the health credentials of foods.

He added: “It is time for the government to move from a policy that favours caution to one that sets clear parameters for the industry and consumers as to what constitutes a healthy product.

“We see this as the only way industry as a whole will be incentivised to move towards healthier, more sustainable products.”

The 9pm watershed ban on TV and online advertising for HFSS foods has been pushed back to 2025, while a ban on promotion deals like ‘buy one get one free’ is expected to come into play later this year.  

VAT isn’t applied to most groceries, but exceptions include products like ice cream, confectionary (besides cakes and some biscuits), and some savoury snacks such as potato crisps and roasted or salted nuts. A sugar tax on soft drinks was introduced in 2018. The Danone President however says the Government can go further by adding VAT to more HFSS goods.

Given that food prices are already hitting record levels in the UK, it is unlikely Government will budge on HFSS policy for now, especially given that the initial implementation of HFSS rules were halted due to the cost of living crisis. While Mayer doesn’t want the prices of goods to rise, he stressed the need for a review of the taxation on HFSS items to help more people opt for healthier foods.

Responding to Danone’s comments, Action on Sugar Campaign Chairman Professor Graham MacGregor, told The Guardian: “We live in an environment where it’s very difficult not to be obese, and the government has got to control the food industry. It’s remarkable that a food company is now asking for more regulation.”

Danone’s intervention comes following the Government’s announcement last week of plans to invest £40m in a weight-loss drugs pilot programme which would allow GPs in England to prescribe drugs such as Wegovy to patients with obesity. Experts have criticised the move however, saying it is not doing enough to tackle the prime driver of obesity – eating unhealthy foods.

Results from the 2021 editon of Health Survey for England show around 26% of adults in the UK are living with obesity while close to 38% are classified as overweight.

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