Psychologists endorse tax on unhealthy foods to improve children’s diets

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14 Nov 2017 --- Increasing the tax on high-fat and high-sugar foods will help improve children’s diets, according to one of the recommendations from the British Psychological Society (BPS) report “Changing behavior: Childhood nutrition,” which was published this week. The report’s recommendations are aimed at tackling the causes of poor diets in children.

It is known that generally speaking the diets of children and young people are often low in fruit and vegetables and too high in fat and salt, the BPS notes, adding that research indicates a child’s eating behavior is affected by their biology, their home environment and outside factors such as food advertising, food labeling and the availability of energy-dense fast food and takeaways. This obesogenic environment is said to create an unhealthy diet leading to health problems including obesity and diabetes.

“To change children’s diets, the government needs to change how children think and their home, school and wider environments,” says the author of the report, Jane Ogden, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Surrey. “It is time to face the challenge of legislation for food production and provision, and to fund interventions for schools and parents.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • The government should introduce legislation to increase taxation on high-fat and high-sugar foods and/or enforce manufacturers to lower the amounts of fat, sugar and salt in products and/or more clearly label high-fat, sugary, salty foods.
  • The curriculum of parenting programs should include healthy eating with a focus not only on what to eat but where, when and how to eat.
  • The PSHE curriculum should include the role of food, nutrition, malnutrition, obesity and the promotion of healthy eating, exercise and a positive relationship with food.
  • Public Health England should be funded to further promote healthy eating, specifically for children and also across the whole population.

“Legislation and structural changes involve working with the food industry and government intervention,” Professor Ogden adds. “[They also involve] parenting programs to encourage a healthier home environment and school-based interventions to change children’s beliefs about food and their food preferences directly.”

There is evidence to suggest that a tax could have an impact on unhealthy consumption behavior, although practical results thus far have been somewhat mixed. A sugar tax has shown signs of getting results in Mexico, and UK Members of Parliament have passed a sugar tax due to come into effect next year. However, there have been false starts: Denmark’s “fat tax,” introduced in 2011 but scrapped a year later, was also investigated by the EU.  

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