The government of the Irish Republic has been told to use the tax system to help fight the problem of obesity, now said to be at epidemic levels.
A national task force on obesity reported this week that an estimated 300,000 Irish children are overweight or obese and that this figure will rise by 10,000 a year unless drastic action is taken. Among the adult population, 39% are
overweight and 18% obese. However, the task force, set up a year ago by former health minister Michael Martin, ruled out a fat tax on the grounds that taxing unhealthy foods “would probably be regressive”. But it called for “joined-up thinking” by government, particularly in relation to taxation policy on the foods people buy.
Taxes should be used, it said, to support healthy eating and there was a case for state subsidies to encourage greater consumption of fruit and vegetables. At the same time, it called for action on the “aggressive marketing” of high-fat foods to young children.
The task force also recommended a ban on vending machines in primary schools and a code governing their contents at secondary level. The provision of more physical education classes was among a list of more than 90 recommendations.
Irish premier Bertie Ahern, speaking in Dublin, promised to examine how the tax system could be changed to encourage healthy eating.