Penalising unhealthy lifestyles may look attractive to a new government, says Clive Black

The weight of debt is burdening the British economy.

Perhaps the central variable dominating the 2010 general election campaign is the constraining effect that managing the national deficit is having upon the political parties. Like deck chairs on the Titanic, it seems, political leaders try and tinker at the edges with promises and pledges for votes.

But the fact remains if the weight of debt doesn't lighten, then the economy could sink. It is for this reason that whoever is the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, debt management through an amalgam of yet to be announced cuts on public expenditure plus higher taxation will ensue.

The debate on tax is live: on income tax, corporation tax, National Insurance, VAT (which looks like it will NOT be applied to food phew say the Poverty Action Groups and most within the food industry, with some justification, I suggest) and a plethora of other derivatives.

A recent element of fiscal tactics is to mould citizens' behaviour to seemingly more virtuous and sustainable paths (such as climate change if that is still a worry after the 2009/10 winter, that's another debate and the broader environment) with beneficial taxes. So are we about to see new taxes, sometimes known as fat taxes, to meet public health objectives?

Particularly to the fore are the issues of managing chronic obesity, which is an undoubted burden, and a growing one at that, on the British health budget, and deteriorating children's dental health the latter revealed by a frightening recent update from Liverpool's Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

More overtly, should there be a debate or action on what the country eats, with taxation supporting what 'virtuous' production processes in farming and processing, and raising money from the taxpaying consumer from what may be considered undesirable diets that can clearly impact health and wellbeing?

So, should folk be allowed to eat themselves to an early death and should the state service their health needs regardless? Are there unhealthy diets that the tax system can improve? Who should collect any such taxes? Is it the domain of the catering sector?

I have to confess to not having the answers to these questions but they may be more frequently asked as a massive national debt stirs the debating pot.