Could “fat tax” help balance the budget?

According to a Ghent University study, a tax on fatty snacks, sweets and sugary soft drinks could save the Belgian exchequer 2.2 million over a 20-year period. The ‘Mediahuis’ newspapers report that the savings would be made by the health service having to treat fewer ailments related to poor diet.

However, the Ghent University health economist Lieven Annemans adds that in order for it to be effective, the fat tax should be part of wider measures to encourage healthy living.

The study was led by Professor Annemans and the medical ethics expert Ignaas Devisch. They believe that a so-called “fat tax” could save the exchequer money in the long term.

Because "If there were a fat tax, we would eat more healthily and a number of complaints such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes and some forms of cancer would be less prevalent”, Professor Annemans said.

"This would in turn reduce the amount needed to treat them.”
However, speaking on VRT Radio 1’s news and current affairs programme ‘De ochtend’, Ignaas Devisch was keen to stress that "This is only a theoretical study and there is a big gap between theory and practise.

Nevertheless, Mr Annemans points to other countries that have introduced a fat tax and adds that they are already reaping the benefits. One such example is Finland where the tax was brought in after consultations with the food industry. The fat tax has been a success in Finland.

This is in stark contrast to Denmark where the researchers say that it was too ad hoc. Denmark has since scrapped its fat tax. Professor Annemans suggests that some of the revenue from the fat tax could be used to subsidise healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables and for campaigns to promote healthy eating.