France’s fight against obesity and new taxes on junk food

Sep 12 2016, 07:30 | by Michela Becchi

A little under half of the French population suffer from health issues connected to obesity, which absorbs 56% of national healthcare. French Ministry for the Economy, Industry and Employment has decided to fight the problem with an increase in taxes on all junk food.

The fight agianst junk food

It’s official: the French government has declared war on junk food with an increase in taxes on all foods considered unhealthy. This means sugary soft drinks, snacks, energy drinks and candy will see an increase in taxes equal to the allowed limit. France is surely not the only country with concerns about obesity, which in recent years has undergone an exponential increase all over Europe, but it is definitely the first European country taking significant action. The British government had initially intended to act against excessive consumption of sugars, with taxes on imports and producers of sweetened beverages, but with a brusque about-face the new Prime Minister Theresa May chose to put the interest of the food industry first.

The topic of added sugars is a heated one. Nutritionists and associations have been closely studying its effects. Like AHA American Heart Association, for example which is committed to reduce deaths caused by heart conditions and strokes and that in the month of August 2016 published the results of a survey conducted by a team that analyzed sugar intake in a group of children under 2 years of age (more on this in the future), releasing a global alert.

Obesity in France: new taxes

Obesity however does not stem from sugar alone, rather from a complex and articulate series of damaging ingredients and from excess usa of products containing them. Vegetable fats, like palm oil, canola oil, margarine, excessive salt and assorted preservatives. France introduces therefore a single tax on junk food with plans to elevate this to include value added tax (VAT) as high as 20% on products currently taxed 5,5%. The initiative stems not from the Ministry of Health, rather the Ministry for the Economy, Industry and Employment which is faced with the obesity issue which in France concerns 15% of the population. This spreading illness has a significant repercussions on sanitary and economic levels. Obesity affects 56% of French healthcare, excluding hospital costs. In 2012 alone, 24,6 millionFrench – a third of the population – were overweight. With these numbers on the rise the cost of obesity of 30 million people will cost France an annual 20,4 billion Euro. “Until now our evaluation of socio-economic costs of obesity were incomplete. But now we have widened the range, like we did for alcohol and tobacco", quoted chief economist of the Chief Treasury Michel Houdebine to financial news Les Echos.

Other proposals: stop ads and introduce smaller portions

All taxing aside, the Ministry’s report also includes additional initiatives to contrast – or at least to contain – the obesity issue. Among these is the reduction of portion sizes in cafeterias, banning transparent vending machines, a tighter and more regimented advertising on snacks et al. In the meantime, to incentivize food education, less affluent families will receive social support.


by Michela Becchi
translated by Eleonora Baldwin

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