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Could targeted food taxes improve health?
  1. Oliver Mytton1,
  2. Alastair Gray2,
  3. Mike Rayner3,
  4. Harry Rutter4
  1. 1Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health, University of Oxford Old Road Campus, Health Economics Research Centre, Headington, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Department of Public Health, University of Oxford Old Road Campus, British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, Headington, Oxford, UK
  4. 4South East Public Health Observatory, 4150 Chancellor Court, Oxford Business Park, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr O Mytton
 Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK; olivermytton{at}


Objective: To examine the effects on nutrition, health and expenditure of extending value added tax (VAT) to a wider range of foods in the UK.

Method: A model based on consumption data and elasticity values was constructed to predict the effects of extending VAT to certain categories of food. The resulting changes in demand, expenditure, nutrition and health were estimated. Three different tax regimens were examined: (1) taxing the principal sources of dietary saturated fat; (2) taxing foods defined as unhealthy by the SSCg3d nutrient scoring system; and (3) taxing foods in order to obtain the best health outcome.

Data: Consumption patterns and elasticity data were taken from the National Food Survey of Great Britain. The health effects of changing salt and fat intake were from previous meta-analyses.

Results: (1) Taxing only the principal sources of dietary saturated fat is unlikely to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease because the reduction in saturated fat is offset by a rise in salt consumption. (2) Taxing unhealthy foods, defined by SSCg3d score, might avert around 2300 deaths per annum, primarily by reducing salt intake. (3) Taxing a wider range of foods could avert up to 3200 cardiovascular deaths in the UK per annum (a 1.7% reduction).

Conclusions: Taxing foodstuffs can have unpredictable health effects if cross-elasticities of demand are ignored. A carefully targeted fat tax could produce modest but meaningful changes in food consumption and a reduction in cardiovascular disease.

  • IHD, ischaemic heart disease
  • VAT, value added tax

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  • No specific funding was sought for the project. MR is funded by the British Heart Foundation. This research was not influenced by any funding body.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethical approval was not required.

    Contributors: OM had the idea, developed the original model, wrote the manuscript and is the guarantor. AG helped develop and verify the model. MR provided and sourced nutritional information, and helped develop the SSCg3d scoring system. HR assisted in the development of the idea, and in writing early versions of the manuscript. All authors commented on the interpretation of data and helped write the final version of the manuscript.

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