Chief medical officer Sally Davies considers tax hike for unhealthy foods

Dame Sally Davies launches childhood obesity review just a day after research links processed foods to premature death risk

Dame Sally Davies has mooted plans to tax all ‘unhealthy foods’ in a bid to tackle childhood obesity.

The chief medical officer met with academics, nutritionists, civil society and food industry figures on Thursday as she launched her review into how to get kids eating healthily.

She told the BBC that among the report’s bold recommendations, which was commissioned by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to be completed before Dame Davies leaves her post in September, was a plan to “subsidise fruit and veg by taxing unhealthy food”.

In this week’s Big Issue magazine, we delve deep into the issue of food poverty and how hard-up Brits are either forced to rely on foodbanks or turn to unhealthy processed foods to feed themselves and their family.

Dame Davies’ investigation opened on the same day that the British Medical Journal published two studies that linked eating processed foods like ready meals and sugary cereals to cardiovascular disease and early death.

The first study of 105,159 French adults discovered a 10 per cent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet was associated with overall cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease.

And in the second, a study of 19,899 Spanish university graduates found that more than four servings per day of those foods showed a 62 per cent increased risk of all-cause morality.

The researchers’ conclusion is simple: eat less processed food. They also urged policy makers to place a greater emphasis on promoting availability, affordability and accessibility of unprocessed food – taking them into the same area as Dame Davies.

But the reality for those receiving parcels from foodbanks is that choice is a luxury they cannot afford while some of the poorest in society are never given the opportunity to develop the cooking skills required to eat healthily.

Campaigner and author Jack Monroe is working in this area and has sent 6,000 copies of her latest book Tin Can Cookto foodbanks around the country after a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than £30,000.

“I’ve been writing recipes from tins for around six years now; and it is frequently met with amusement and disdain from my peers,” said Monroe.

“But I’m fascinated by our relationships with tinned food, and what those tins say about us. Our abilities, our fears, our emergencies, and our comfort zones. [Currently] there are around 400 registered food banks in the UK, feeding 1.5million people, and those parcels are made primarily of tinned goods.

“I know, because I was a food bank user, and it was out of those parcels that I started to write recipes online.”

But, as Bristol University law lecturer Tomaso Ferrando told The Big Issue in this week’s magazine, feeding people sustainably will require a rethink of our food system and our human right to food to go beyond just getting by/

“It’s about a holistic understanding of the importance of food for every single human being and we don’t see it happening under the current system,” he said.

For more on food poverty, buy this week’s Big Issue magazine, available from vendors and The Big Issue Shop now.

Image: iStock