March 19, 2009 / 3:57 PM / 10 years ago

Scottish doctor urges "fat tax" on chocolate

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Scottish doctors came within a whisker of passing a motion calling for a “fat tax” on chocolate last week, and the doctor behind the move said chocolate was a root cause of increasing obesity.

Chocolate bars are pictured in the employees' supermarket at the Nestle headquarters in Vevey February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“Certainly the U.S. and the UK are affected by rising levels of obesity,” David Walker, a family doctor in Airdrie, western Scotland, who proposed the motion, said.

“If the British government is serious, they should tax chocolate in the same way as they tax alcohol,” he said in a telephone interview.

Walker said on Wednesday that Britain had witnessed almost a doubling of cases of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, in the past 15 years.

In Scotland, nearly one in four people are obese, he added.

He said British people’s fondness for chocolate must explain in part the growing obesity problem, because chocolate is high in calories, fat and sugar.

Chocolate was one of a number of factors, including growing affluence and more sedentary lifestyles, that had contributed to Britain’s fatter society, Walker said.

The Scottish doctors’ conference in Glasgow on March 12 defeated the motion to tax chocolate by just two votes.

Walker’s call attracted vigorous debate in the national media as healthy lifestyle becomes an increasingly hot topic.

The UK Food and Drink Federation, the voice of the companies in the sector, lambasted Dr Walker’s message.

“Introducing regressive taxes on the foods that consumers love would result only in lighter wallets, not smaller waists — particularly as we already have to pay VAT on all our chocolate purchases,” said Julian Hunt, director of communication.

“While good for grabbing headlines, there is no evidence to suggest that such ‘fat taxes’ would actually work in reality.”

Walker said the positive health benefits of chocolate, such as the antioxidants in dark chocolate, which cut risks of cardiovascular disease, are counterbalanced by chocolate’s contribution to obesity due to its high calories.

“Chocolate should be treated with respect — it should be treated as a luxury item, a special treat,” Walker said.

“It should be eaten quite infrequently.”

Walker said he admitted to feeling guilt over the impact a chocolate tax might have on impoverished West African cocoa farmers if demand for chocolate fell.

“That is certainly something that has pricked my conscience,” Walker said.

“It would take a very brave government to tax chocolate,” he added

Reporting by David Brough; editing by Paul Casciato

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