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Should minimum calorie pricing be considered?

ByBen Thomas

Jan 15, 2018

Following the announcement on Wednesday 15 November that the UK Supreme Court is backing the plans for the Scottish government to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol, should similar measures be considered for calorie consumption?

The Scottish government had approved legislation five years ago to introduce a 50p-per-unit minimum on alcohol, but it had been held up by a legal challenge by the Scotch Whiskey Association, initially made to the Court of Session.However, with the court’s approval, the measures would see an introduction of minimum prices on a 750 mL of Vodka set at £13.13, an 11.5 per cent bottle of wine at £4.32, and a litre of five per cent cider at £2.50. Researchers at the University of Sheffield estimate this would reduce hospital admissions by 2000, and save 120 lives per year.

The measures have, however, garnered both support and criticism: on the one hand, the move is hoped to save lives; however, others argue that addicts will still find a way to consume alcohol, and less afluent alcoholics may turn to crime to do so. There is also an argument that the measures will penalise responsible drinkers unfairly, while doing nothing to deter those with more money in the bank.

But as much of a strain as alcoholism places on society, there is another great health risk befalling the UK: obesity, and obesity-related complications. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the UK are classified as overweight or obese, and that number is expected to increase.

The health risks of obesity have been well described: it can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, strokes, certain cancers, and more, as well as exacerbating other conditions. But alongside the strain it puts on individual health is the economic cost: George Osborne in 2016 reported that obesity costs the British Economy £27 billion a year. More money is currently spent on treating diabetes and obesity related conditions than on the police and fire services combined.

Obesity is on the rise, and measures need to be put in place to tackle it. In much the same way that minimum alcohol pricing was passed to combat the problem of alcoholism and its related cost, minimum calorie pricing should also then be considered to do the same with obesity.

It is difficult, almost hypocritical even, to accept the arguments made by the Scottish Government in justifying the legislation for minimum unit alcohol pricing, but to not accept those same arguments when applied to minimum calorie pricing (available on their website).

These arguments suggest that the move would impact most on harmful consumers, result in a fall in hospital admissions and obesity related deaths, and significantly reduce the social and economic cost of obesity, as well as other points.

Image: Jorge Lascar via flickr

By Ben Thomas

PhD Student in the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science, interested in all things science.

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