The mass information campaigns used in the past don’t appear to have worked, the department noted in a new report published this week. With obesity levels rising rapidly, more effective measures are required, the authors stated.
A tax on junk food is among six policies put forward in the paper – Obesity: What are the consequences for the economy and how to limit them? (in French).
“An interesting option could be to tax goods beyond a certain level of calories, as has been done in Mexico in 2014, or according to their nutritional quality,” the report states.
A change in the rate of VAT is one area the government should consider. In France, only products containing alcohol, caviar, confectionery and vegetable fats are taxed at standard VAT rate (20%), while the reduced rate of 5.5% generally applies to food products. Unhealthy foods could be charged at 20%, the Treasury suggested.
Drinks tax too low
France already has a tax on sugary drinks, the proceeds from which amount to just under €400 million. However, the Treasury argues that the levy is “probably too low” to have had a significant influence on consumer behaviour.
Other measures to tackle obesity include making unhealthy food “less visible”.
It envisages “many measures that cost very little such as banning confectionery vending machines with glass display cases that allows the products to be seen, along with measures that encourage businesses to provide employees with fruit rather than sweets in vending machines.”
Another proposition is: “banning large packages for high fat foods that encourage consumers to stockpile which, in turn, encourages them to eat more (particularly when these products are the subject of price promotions).”
Limits to portion sizes could also work, it said, as could changing the information on servings – packs for ‘two people’ could become packs suitable for ‘four people’. Nutritional labelling also needs to be simplified.
Restrictions on marketing certain products to children are also proposed: the authors citing a ban on advertising to under 13s in Quebec, Canada. “The advertising ban for children (total or partial) could have a strong impact,” the report reads.
One option would be a taxation system to discourage companies from advertising foods high in fat, salt or sugar. A ban, on the other hand, would be “more radical” but “probably less expensive to enforce”.
Health professionals should also be incentivised to prevent obesity, but this would be one of the more costly measures, the Treasury noted.
Obesity costs France €20bn a year – comparable to tobacco and alcohol. In 2012, 15% of French people were obese, with a further 32% overweight.