ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the salt and sugar proposed tax
The world's first Salt and Sugar Reformulation tax could be introduced in England as part of a new National Food Strategy.
The report also suggested that doctors should be able to prescribe fruit and vegetables as what we eat is doing "terrible damage" to the health of the country.
Poor diets are contributing to around 64,000 deaths each year in England, according to the National Food Strategy published on Thursday.
The independent review, commissioned by the government in 2019, has urged ministers to carry out major reforms to help people cut down on sugar, salt and meat to save lives.
Food entrepreneur and report author Henry Dimbleby warned the way food is being consumed currently is “putting intolerable strain on the NHS”, which before the pandemic was costing the Government £130 billion a year.
A more cost-effective approach, the report said, would be to increase spending on “preventative measures, so that fewer people get to the point where they need expensive medical treatments”.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would be giving the report "careful thought" but stressed that it was not "government policy".
He told ITV News: "We’ll be giving it careful thought and setting out our own food strategy later in the year".
He added: "It’s right that when we do that that we strike a balance between tackling undoubtedly the challenge of obesity but also ensuring that these things are a question of personal choice and judgement rather than the state telling you what to do."
The report suggests trialling a “Community Eatwell” programme, based on initiatives seen elsewhere in the world such as Washington DC, which would allow GPs to prescribe vouchers for fresh produce along with cooking lessons, nutritional education and guided tours of shops and supermarkets to teach people how to shop cleverly.
The Government is already piloting a scheme called “Green Social Prescribing” in seven areas around the country, which enables health professionals to prescribe activities intended to improve patients’ physical and mental health such as walking clubs, community gardening and food-growing projects.
Mr Dimbleby said: “Covid-19 has been a painful reality check. Our high obesity rate has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate. We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren.
“It is well within our power to change the system so it makes both us and the planet healthier.”
In order to meet existing health targets, over the next 10 years fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30%, and fibre consumption by 50%.
Consumption of food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will have to go down by 25%, and meat consumption should reduce by 30%.
The report also calls for a sugar and salt reformulation tax to encourage manufacturers to reduce their use in products as part of efforts to curb obesity, strokes and heart disease.
Money raised from the levy, it suggests, could go towards expanding free school meals and support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
The proposals have been backed by a number of UK charities, including the British Heart Foundation whose chief executive Charmaine Griffiths said: “This significant report makes strong recommendations to make everyday foods healthier for all, and which must be considered as part of the comprehensive action needed to tackle obesity.
“Diets high in sugar and salt drive dangerous risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure, putting millions of people at increased risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Celebrity chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver said: “Of course it’s right every child should have access to healthy and affordable food, no matter where they live – and last year has been a stark reminder that nutritious meals are vital in keeping us all healthy and resilient.”
The idea of bringing in a ‘meat tax’, however, was ruled out as it was said to be “politically impossible” due to the belief it would be unpopular with the public and might penalise poorer households.
The impact our waistline is having on our pockets is also borne out in the report, which claims it has cost the economy £74 billion.
This is made up of combined food-related disease, lost workforce productivity, reduction in life expectancy and NHS funds.
To cover these costs, each person in the United Kingdom pays an additional £409 in taxes per year.
Almost one in three people over 45 in England is now clinically obese, massively increasing a large proportion of the population’s chances of developing chronic, life-changing illnesses and of dying young.
However, many conditions such as diabetes and heart problems also affect people who are not overweight.
The growth in popularity of food items such as crisps is said to be contributing to the issue. The average person now eats five times the volume of crisps compared with 1972 figures.
The increase in processed foods being bought by Britons, more than 20% higher than in the 1980s, is also a contributing factor.