Councils call for food industry tax to tackle obesity

By on 12/07/2014 in News

Birmingham’s Be Active scheme highlighted as leading example of local authority action to tackle obesity and inactivity.

An obesity action fund should be created by taking a slice of existing tax on fast food, soft drinks and confectionary, councils say.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents almost 400 local authorities in England and Wales - who last year took over responsibility for public health - is calling for a fifth of the current VAT on these “obesity fuellers” to go to coucils to tackle the condition. The extra £1 billion from this share could help transform the lives of the three and half million overweight or obese children in this country, it says. Currently, health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the country £5 billion, according to government statistics.

The LGA's call comes as latest figures reveal the scale of the obesity crisis in this country. The NHS currently spends £1million an hour on diabetes - 10 per cent of its annual budget. The number of obese people is set to soar – more than doubling over the next 40 years. Today, one in four adults is obese compared to less than 15 per cent in 1993. One in seven hospital beds are filled with patients suffering diabetes-related problems, which are often related to obesity.

Councils are well placed to take action on important local issues to tackle obesity, such as commissioning weight management services, exercise referral schemes and extending the offer of free or reduced-cost sport - for example swimming - and leisure facilities. This extra money would go towards giving these services greater reach and impact.

Local authorities are also initiating innovative and imaginative schemes to help residents get fit, including a 'green' gym movement which involves providing exercise classes outdoors; and giving advice about how to cook healthily on a budget.

These radical proposals to tackle obesity form a key part of a new report published by the LGA - Investing In Our Nation’s Future, The First 100 Days of The Next Government. The report outlines a range of policies which will save the public purse £11 billion, tackle the country’s housing crisis, offer every child a place at a good school, address the pothole backlog and improve the nation’s health. It sets out what the next government needs to do in its first 100 days after the May 2015 general election by radically devolving power to local areas.

LGA Chairman David Sparks said: “Our pioneering plans represent a bold, radical and innovative approach to tackling the obesity crisis, which is costing the country £5 billion a year.

“By taking a slice of existing VAT we would raise millions which would help transform the lives and futures of obese and overweight people – including the country's three and half million children – rather than simply swelling the Treasury's coffers.

“This extra money would be a massive boost in the battle to combat obesity. It would help tackle head-on the crippling problems often associated with the condition, like diabetes.

“Councils are doing everything they can to curb obesity at a local level. This involves ground-breaking health and fitness programmes and schemes. This extra money would enable them to ramp up their efforts and really make a major impact on tackling this condition.”



‘Be Active’ is a scheme provided free of charge by Birmingham City Council to tackle health inequality and associated deprivation levels by offering access to free physical activity sessions. Residents can take part in free swimming, exercise classes or attend the gym at any council-run leisure centre. The scheme, which has now been expanded into the city’s parks, has over 400,000 members - well over a third of Birmingham's population. For every £1 spent on ‘Be Active’ the return for the local NHS is £22.80 in terms of health care related benefits.


Trim Down Shape up is a Wigan Council Weight Management service for men in Wigan delivered by ABL Health. It is one part of Wigan Council’s nationally acclaimed Lose Weight Feel Great weight management programme for men and women which includes; a 12 week Community Weight Management Programme, a consultant led Specialist Weight Management Service, a Health Trainer service for healthy lifestyle support, web based support and support for pregnant women and their families. Trim Down Shape Up was commissioned by Wigan Council specifically to increase the number of males accessing weight management services in Wigan.


How much money do councils estimate taking a fifth of the current VAT on fast food, soft drinks and confectionary will amount to annually? 20 per cent of VAT would raise just over £1 billion (£1,005.24 million to be precise)

Item Value of UK market (£m) VAT at standard rate (£m) Source
Soft Drinks 14,955 2,991
Chocolate confectionery 3,976 795.2
Takeaway food 6,200 1,240

Health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the NHS more than £5 billion every year


LGA publication - local government's new role in tackling obesity

LGA's 100 days


The number of obese people in England has been rising sharply for the best part of 20 years. Today one in four adults are obese compared to less than 15 per cent in 1993. By 2050 these figures are predicted to have more than doubled. Rates have also been on the rise for children. Nonetheless, latest statistics still show 18 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds are obese. England is one of the most obese countries in the world with one in four adults obese.

The numbers of obese are predicted to more than double over the next 40 years.

  • Obesity is linked to a host of health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, mental health problems and musculoskeletal problems.
  • Sometimes that increase in risk is incredibly stark. For example an obese woman is 13 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a healthy woman.
  • Overall 29 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women classed as obese have a life-limiting illness - double the rates in the healthy-weight population.
  • The wider cost to the economy is estimated at closer to £20bn a year once factors such as lost productivity and sick days are taken into account.

The NHS currently spends £1million an hour on diabetes, equivalent to 10 per cent of its annual budget. Research published earlier this year revealed that only Iceland and Malta have higher levels of obese and overweight people than the UK. It found 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women and more than a quarter of children are either overweight or obese in the UK.

Lancet study into UK obesity

‘The Lancet’ has published a Global Burden of Disease study into UK obesity.<>

Background to obesity

People who are overweight have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the NHS more than £5 billion every year.<>

Child Obesity

The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults

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