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Denmark abandons sugar and fat taxes

A world-leading ‘fat tax’ has been abolished in Denmark, with the country admitting the controversial attempt at engineering a healthier populace has failed. A planned tax on some high-sugar foods has also been abandoned, marking a setback for advocates of this method of encouraging health.

According to the Danish Ministry of Taxation the country’s tax on unhealthy, high-fat products had driven up prices and put jobs at risk.

“The fat tax is one of the most maligned we had in a long time. Now we have to try improving the public health by other means,” said minister for food Mette Gjerskov (quoted in the Wall Street Journal).

As the global population’s average weight creeps ever upwards despite public information campaigns extolling the benefits of a healthy diet, policy wonks have increasingly looked to legislation to control what people eat. A number of countries and jurisdictions had followed Denmark’s example or were looking to.

But in an opinion piece published in Nature in February doctor and medical researcher Robert Lustig, of the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues cast doubt on Denmark’s fat-tax and pointed out that “most medical professionals no longer believe that fat is the primary culprit” of obesity and related diseases. They suggested that the then mooted sugar tax was “a more plausible and defensible step” but this has now been thrown out along with the fat tax.

Other researchers have also chimed in – a paper published in the BMJ in May pointed out the growing trend of explicitly health-motivated taxes on certain foodstuffs. But that study warned that such taxes would likely need to be at the 20% level to have a real impact. (Denmark’s tax was 16 Kroner, around $2.70, per kilogramme of saturated fat.)


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