France is weighing up a proposal to tax junk food as part of efforts to combat obesity, which is rising despite the national reputation for staying slim.
With nearly half of French people now overweight or obese, the Treasury has recommended raising tax on fattening foods judged to be of little nutritional value.
Fast food is undermining the so-called “French paradox” — the generally accepted notion that the French can indulge in pastries, foie gras, wine and cheese while preserving youthfully slender waistlines well into middle age.
At least 15 per cent of French people are obese and another 32 per cent overweight, costing the country an estimated £23.5 billion a year in health care and time off work, equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP, the Treasury said in a new report.
It stressed that the number of obese and overweight people is rising rapidly as the national appetite for fast food grows.
The report suggested either a new tax or an increase in VAT on junk food from its current rate of 5.5 per cent to the highest band of 20 per cent.
France already imposes a “soda tax” on fizzy and energy drinks containing sugar, which nets the state 400 million euros a year. The Treasury wants a “significant” tax on junk food, arguing that a small price increase would not be an effective deterrent.
“Although obese or overweight people represent a little less than half of the population, they account for a much higher share of health expenditure (56 per cent of out-patient costs and probably more in hospitals),” the Treasury said.
It added that France’s weight problem is becoming as serious as its tobacco or alcohol habits.
The Treasury proposed media campaigns to highlight the risks of unhealthy eating and restriction on junk food advertisements targeting children.
The French traditionally pride themselves on bringing up children to eat balanced meals and avoid snacking.
Their school dinners, they insist, are the envy of the world and helped to inspire Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve food for British schoolchildren.
In France, school dinners feature dishes such as endive with basil, sautéed beef Charolais and fish stews.
They generally include s starter with salad, and cheese, yogurt and fruit as dessert options.
The Treasury also suggested banning confectionery dispensers on the grounds that the coin-operated machines tempt children to over-indulge in sweets.
By comparison, one on four British adults are obese and nearly two out of three are overweight, the highest level in western Europe.
Obesity has more than trebled in the past 30 years, blamed for leading to diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Food habits are changing fast in France, already McDonald’s second most profitable market.
Increasing numbers of families are resorting to ready-prepared meals as work schedules eat into time that might have been devoted to home cooking in previous generations.
By David Chazan
Source: The Telegraph
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