'Fat tax' : no health benefits, but guaranteed headlines
The proposal by Dr Tom Marshall to introduce VAT on fatty foods is unfair, unscientific and ineffective as a means of combating heart disease. Marshall's BMJ article was quoted in almost every newspaper today, but only a few cited the highly critical commentary which the BMJ published alongside Marshall's piece, pointing out that even if dietary modifications could be achieved by such a tax (which the commentators suggest is extremely unlikely), the main determinant of how any individual responds to reducing fat in the diet is genetic. Even among high-risk groups, the effects of such dietary modification are variable and at best limited. The commentary is polite, but seriously questions the scientific basis of Marshall's arguments, and effectively shows that the proposed 'fat tax' would unfairly penalise low-income groups without reducing the incidence of heart disease.
The idea of a tax on fatty foods is by no means a new one: it is trotted out regularly by 'experts' who must surely be aware of its limitations, but who clearly also know that they will be guaranteed extensive media attention. On this occasion, as before, the responsible scientists who wearily point out the serious flaws in the headline-grabbing proposals are either ignored or relegated to a brief mention in the final paragraph of press reports.