The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has called for taxes to be applied to so called unhealthy ‘junk food’ in her annual report, suggesting the proceeds could be used to reduce prices for fruit and vegetables. In her annual report she has also urged the government to ban added sugar in jars of baby food.

The report details plans to create a more healthy nation by 2040, with a focus on improving the environment to make it easier for people to be healthier. In addition, it calls for the means of tackling the preventable causes of 50% of chronic diseases and 40% of cancers – namely, unhealthy diet, smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking of alcohol and air pollution.

Based on the alleged success of the tax on sugary drinks introduced in April this year, Dame Sally said she wants the government to do more to force the food industry to cut sugar and salt in everyday foods adding that in her view “industry had not delivered” on voluntary targets set by Public Health England to make their products healthier. She wants the food industry to do more, commenting: “Those sectors that damage health must pay for their harm or subsidise healthier choices.”

She has also hinted she would like to see a tax on chocolate and so called ‘junk food’. The report recommends:

  • incentives to get people eating more fruit and vegetables
  • more ambitious targets for salt reduction in food (to 7g a day)
  • extending the tax on sugary drinks to sweetened milk-based drinks
  • a ban on added sugar and salt in jars of baby and infant food
  • taxing foods high in sugar and salt

It also urges the government and NHS England to set targets to reduce inequalities in childhood obesity. Dame Sally said obesity was an issue of inequality, with children and adults in the poorest communities more likely to have diseases related to their weight at an earlier age, and lasting for longer.

She said she would likely be accused of being “chief nanny” of a nanny state but that it was her job to shape the environment for children who could not make their own choices She said: “We should not be adding empty calories to baby food. It sets the taste for sweeter food and results in children gaining unnecessary weight before going to primary school.”

The food industry has long adopted a position suggesting that taxes would not change basic consumer behaviour. Responding to the report however, a spokesperson from the Treasury office said it would not shy away from further action, including tax changes, if the food industry fails to face up to the scale of the problem through voluntary reduction programmes.

The new report also recommends that a health index for the UK is needed to measure all the factors which affect the nation’s health.