Over half of Europeans were overweight in 2014. Obesity rates are increasing rapidly in almost all EU Member States (except hyper-chic France, where they’re actually falling). One in every third child in the EU aged 6 to 9 is currently overweight or obese.

The European population is storing up serious health problems, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and coronary heart diseases. This will, obviously, put an increased strain on health systems.

Encouraging more active lifestyles involving sport, walking, cycling, etc., is obviously part of the solution. However, healthier diets are also needed. We had a comment from Bart, who wondered: “If cigarettes are heavily taxed because the smokers are a heavy burden to the public health system then why not apply the same rules to unhealthy food?”

The World Health Organisation argues that “tobacco tax increases are the single most effective policy to reduce tobacco use”. If it works for tobacco, wouldn’t it also work for fatty and unhealthy foods?

To get a response, we took Bart’s comment to some of the speakers at State of Europe 2017, the high level roundtable event in Brussels organised by our partner think tank, Friends of Europe. We put his question to Xavier Prats Monné, Director General of Health & Food Safety at the European Commission. Here’s what he had to say:

Should unhealthy food be taxed more? Is Europe paying for cheap food prices with higher health insurance bills? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStockPhoto – romrodinka

65 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Jack Tunstall

    No – people need to take responsibility for themselves. Its a myth eating healthy costs more, It just takes a little more effort.

    • avatar
      Rick Sorice

      actually junk food is cheaper than healthy food

  2. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Why is junk food so cheap? You subsidise the animal meat industry. You subsidise soy and form. Is food really cheap or are people paying for it many times over with their tax money going to subsidies? And now adding a tax to make people pay for it again. Education, subsidise healthy food instead. End slave labour or exploited labour in the countries that produce the soy,sugar etc. Stop looking for ways to tax people and deal with the core issues-unethical corporations. Also educate people, via labelling, online, schools.

  3. avatar
    Donnie MacLean

    Taxing junk food is a very FALSE “good solution”. It’s brainless and mean even. If the EU really cared about people’s health, they would legislate to impose a ban on all inorganic food additives which have NEVER been tested in combination and to which our children especially are being poisoned by. Taxing people who are already heavily taxed makes no sense.

  4. avatar
    Boris Zugolaro

    People should be held responsible for their health. If governments want to raise some money by taxing junk food is ok. But don’t use the welfare as an excuse.

  5. avatar
    Man Von

    Great idea, as junk food is full of food additives, and as a to big consumption of this kind of food increases the risk of certain pathologies.

    • avatar
      Raphael Grab

      Have parents managed to keep their children from smoking or drinking alcohol? If they cant stop that, how do they manage to stop children from eating at fast food restaurants, especially when these exist every 100-200 meters in bigger cities…

      the responsibility lies with the parents as well as the companies involved. If then the government wants to get involved, fine by me.

    • avatar
      Janet Anderson

      My parents didn’t let me drink wine when i was a child! However the parents could make a good start by providing decent food. When I was 11 I was already baking the cakes for the whole family. No convenience food then!!

  6. avatar
    Michelle Pons

    In the UK, more focus should be put on diet and nutrition in schools, with cooking lessons for all. Education is key.

    • avatar
      Isidro González

      Nutrition would be a good thing to be teached in schools :)

  7. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    We want less EU not more!
    The EU is a cesspit of corruption.
    The fewer powers it has the better for all EU citizens.

  8. avatar
    Bori Yordanova

    Meat, dairy and eggs should be taxed and the subsidies given to those industries should be instead used for helping farmers transition to sustainably growing plants!! In addition, people should be informed and educated about the destructive impacts of meat, dairy and eggs on the environment, the economy, our health and animals. Basically, politics must catch up with science!

  9. avatar
    Jez Boulton

    No. You would need a legal definition of junk food. McD lawyers would tie it up in court for years. Education is the answer.

  10. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    The power of Habits! (Not Hobbits!)- or- The power of self control!

    Hardly anyone enjoys to be “lectured” by a group of (unhealthy) EU politicians.

    “Persuasion” by the medical fraternity would be less disingenuous. Whoever lived or lives in an advanced social state, contributed towards its health care system by paying taxes.

    Personal choices in life have consequences. Hectic lifestyles, unstable homes, no time for- or overindulgence of the few precious offspring’s are contributing factors.

    Higher health care costs through “reckless habits” impacts on a nation’s budget. These costs could (should) be “harmonized”! Those, who don’t care two hoots about themselves and the whole community- should be made aware & pay more for their “democratic” choices.


    Nowadays, advanced & comprehensive health check monitoring- annually- could establish a population mean.

    Above that mean, “those” may pay their “sin tax” in retrospect- on a sliding scale- according to a nations “recklessness index”!

  11. avatar
    Domenico Galardo

    Hell no ! Dear gov mind you f…. business, and stay out from peoples’ pockets and life, thanks !

    p.s. And btw they are not junk. You just need to balance your diet, that’s it. Eat organic bread, pasta, something like that all days and you become obese the same, guarantee.

    • avatar
      Valerio Piccionello

      mangio pasta e pane praticamente ogni giorno e non sono obeso lol

  12. avatar
    Lorenzo Janulardo

    Sì, se si tratta di una tassa volta a colpir le multinazionali. In compenso bisognerà detassare le aziende che fanno agricoltura sostenibile (produzione integrata, biologica, biodinamica…) e incoraggiare i micromercati con prodotti locali.

  13. avatar
    Chris Pavlides

    Taxes = return. What will be your return 4 making poor peoples food more expensine & more unhealthy ???

  14. avatar
    Nicolas Papageorgiou

    Hi, a Belgian taxpayer here. Should wages be taxed as badly as alcohol? Could you just remind us the reason for applying high taxes on alcohol and cigarettes? It’s quite confusing to see wages falling in the same tax category as these products… Is working such a bad thing?

  15. avatar
    Diana Erhardt

    When I was young I ate only so called bio-food: brought directly from the small villages in the neighborhood, grown in the small private gardens and in small quantities completely natural. I remember very well the taste of that food. Comparing with what they sell as “bio” in the modern shops – it’s only expensive, but not that quality.They misuse the naive….let alone the ridiculous opinion that eating meat, dairy and eggs is unhealthy. Whom you can trust today about the “healthy” food. It also became a business, not a healthcare

    • avatar
      Maia Alexandrova

      It is a proven fact that eating a lot of animal fats, processed meats, sugar and salt leads to all kinds of deadly modern diseases, including obesity (yes, it is a disease). These foods have toxic substances that cannot be absorbed or cleansed by our bodies. They accumulate inside the organs, on the walls of the arteries, anywhere the body can store them and after some years our organism cannot cope with them any more and we get the first symptoms of disease. What sounds ridiculous to you means life and death to others. It is all about knowledge. If you don’t know about something, learn. To be healthy, you need to eat 80-90% of plant foods, mostly raw.

      Do you know about sodium nitrite? It is a poison that is added to ham, salami and sausages to make them look pink and fresh. In 2015 the World Health Organisation confirmed that processed meats cause cancer. So does red meat. The advice was to eat no more than 500 g red or processed meat per week. If you choose to poison yourself and get bowel cancer, it is your choice, but don’t ridicule others who don’t.

      Fish contains mercury, so you should not eat more than 350 g per week and even less from certain types of fish which are more poisonous. Chicken is stuffed with hormones and antibiotics.

      The foods that have most nutrients per 1 calorie are vegetables, especially the green ones, followed by fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.

      It turns out that the sheep are not those who eat plants, but those who trust meat manufacturers and the “scientific” studies sponsored by them.

  16. avatar
    Lynne Warner

    Love it!-so many sheep agreeing to more tax! It won’t stop here, it never does, hopefully you will all be happy when they tax you on YOUR farts!

  17. avatar
    Craig Willy

    If it works to reduce consumption (also perhaps use the revenue on anti-fat healthcare and education), yes!

    • avatar
      Calin Cretu

      Children cannot decide for themselves. Nor all parents can always take a healthy decision for their kids.

      Hence, parents can hurt children by allowing them to eat junk food.

    • avatar
      Dee O'brien

      Maybe they should target the likes of McDonald’s instead of trying to squeeze money out of people under the guise of protecting them

    • avatar
      Maia Alexandrova

      Παναγιώτης Κυρμπάτσος, the government should interfere because it is responsible for providing healthcare to an increasing number of people who get diseases caused by unhealthy foods.

  18. avatar
    Yannick Cornet

    Yes. And the proceeds should go to making organic food more affordable. It’s a question of internalising the real costs junk food has on people’s health and the environment, and to acknowledge the real benefits – albeit long-term – of organic foods on health and the environment. In short: junk food is having a free lunch.

  19. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should junk food be heavily taxed like cigarettes and alcohol?

    This tax, as you all know, will simply be passed on to the starving public. And why I say starving public is because no one in their right mind, unless suffering from starvation, would eat these processed offerings. It is dangerous and should be banned. It is worse for humans than smoking. It is toxic.

    If you tax it, you will never want to ban it as the income you receive from it will be impossible to do without. Your lifestyle and salaries cost the citizens of Europe a great deal of money which has to be funded. And rather than tax the wealthy, ‘yourselves.’ By doing this, you freeze any upward movement out of poverty the poor may have, by over taxation.

    Here are examples of what you are allowing producers to give to European children and their families. And you have continued to allow this knowing full well what it costs us all in health care. It is a criminal offence not to explain in detail to the public, on a regular basis, what you are permitting CEO’s and shareholders to do to citizens systems in order to steal their money, under the auspices of feeding them or keeping them alive.

    Addictive additives.


    You can fight poison by not allowing it in your mouth



    Then there is this:


    You can avoid GMO’s and cleanse the liver by eating food that removes the toxins.


  20. avatar
    Dee O'brien

    Just another way to squeeze money out of people under the guise of “protecting” them..

  21. avatar
    Любомир Иванчев

    Nope. Just inform people about the risks, the decision on what to eat should sit with them and they should have the economic liberty to choose what food they want.

  22. avatar
    Rachel Scott

    I wholeheartedly agree- obesity is just as much as a public health risk as smoking is. Many people say that this will be a burden to the public, but isn’t the burden of having to rely on food that can barely even be classed as the latter much greater and more long-term?
    If we do tax junk food, then this will go to making organic and real food more affordable and in the reach of so many more, also having the effect of making healthy and natural foods more appealing as well.

  23. avatar
    Kimmo Linkama

    There will always be people who excel in telling other people how they should live their lives.

    Besides that, the government point of view always comes back to tax revenue. Alcohol – people like to have a drink, so let’s tax it. Tobacco – people enjoy it, so let’s tax it. Cars and motor fuel – people want freedom of movement, so let’s tax it. Food – people like good food, so let’s define a zealot-run policy of approved foods and TAX the rest.

    The pinnacle of hypocrisy are countries like Sweden and Finland where there’s a state monopoly on liquor sales, Systembolaget and Alko, respectively. These government-controlled companies need to make a profit, so they’re happy to increase alcohol sales while ostensibly “carrying the responsibility for public health”.

    All right, let politicians and lobby groups decide what is acceptable and what isn’t. Ban everything else. People will be healthier – and millions of those shiningly healthy people worldwide out of a job. What will be the cost of that, given unemployment benefits and social security? Public money spent from the left pocket instead of the right pocket.

    A third way to think about the issue. If I lead an unhealthy life, I will die sooner and no longer burden healthcare or social services. Even my funeral will be paid from my estate. Where inheritance tax is applied, the state will even make a small profit on my demise by taxing my survivors for what they stand to receive.

    Ah yes, but if I die, I will no longer be useful as a taxpayer. On the other hand, I may be made redundant tomorrow, changing from a useful asset to a burden to society overnight.

    Life is a complicated place.

  24. avatar

    Blaming “junk food” it’s just turning away from responsability and, conveniently, an opportunity for the government to make some more money. Education would be the solution.

  25. avatar

    why fast foods (fatty, high calories foods) are very cheap while healthy foods (grilled chicken, meat and fish) for example are expensive? they are all meats the only difference is in the method of cooking. so they are not loosing anything if they sell the healthy foods cheaper like the unhealthy foods but they sell them expensive because they know that people will buy them is they really care of their health. junk foods , no one wants to buy it.. so they reduced the cost to promote people to buy it…. which is unfair. fast food restaurants are playing with human health and putting people at risk of DEATH only because they want to earn$$$ … if they sell the healthy foods at the same price, they wont lose anything they just dont want ….

  26. avatar
    Gecse Kata

    Healthy food is much more expensive than junk food so people should change it !

  27. avatar

    I believe that junk food should be taxed globally. This decision will have an impact on public health and directly affect feeding choices. The government should implement laws and restrictions to invest in more sustainable ingredients for products. This taxation would impact the sales revenue of the corporations and would direct them to invest in research and development in order to make alternative choices. The tariffs on junk food would improve health globally ultimately creating and sustaining healthier lifestyles.

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