When the Danish fat tax was introduced back in October 2011, a breadth of evidence suggested that, if the Danes cut down on their large per capita intake of foods rich in fat (1), the country’s alarming levels of overweight and obesity (2) would be reduced. A year later, a period in which changes to consumption patterns in favor of healthy options was recorded (3), evidence-based public policy making is forsaken in favour of a knee-jerk response to scaremongering by the food industry. For instance, Copenhagen claims that the fat tax hurt the food industry’s balance sheet or that this levy enhanced cross-border trade - and yet the data to support these arguments has yet to materialise. Arguments that, beyond anecdotal evidence, do not bear much credibility and could well be linked to broader economic trends or tactical responses on behalf of the industry.

The Danish government has also said that, by abolishing the fat tax, it would save on administrative costs. Besides falling to identify which costs Copenhagen actually refers to, “the Danish government appears to forget the high price the country’s health system will have to pay to combat totally preventable non-communicable diseases, like cardiovascular diseases, caused by the excessive consumption of fat and sugar,” said Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of European Public Health Alliance (EPHA). "At a time of cuts in health budgets, it is not clear to me how Denmark plans to afford its rising healthcare costs associated with obesity and related chronic diseases, not to mention their impact on productivity, labour force participation and economic activity," she continued.

In a recent report (4), the British National Heart Forum argues that “widening disparities in rates of [diet-related chronic] diseases between rich and poor call for a range of policy responses to address the problems created by a food supply dominated by cheap, energy-dense and heavily marketed, processed food. Health gains are progressive because they benefit the poorest most.”

“Governments across the world are increasingly identifying fiscal measures as a win-win for increasing stretched budgets and improving population health. I suspect the Danish fat tax did not make as much money as planned, and the government caved in for political reasons to appease the business lobby,” speculates Monika Kosińska.

- Note to the editors

(1) Taxing unhealthy food and drinks to improve health.

(2) According to the Danish National Health and Medicines Authority, 47% of Danes are overweight and 13% are obese.

(3) Sociodemographic differences in dietary habits described by food frequency questions—results from Denmark.

(4) What is the role of health-related food duties?. A report of a National Heart Forum meeting held on 29 June 2012.

- Contact information Javier Delgado Rivera, EPHA Communications Coordinator, Tel.: +32 2 233 38 76 and j.delgado-rivera@epha.org

Last modified on November 14 2012.