The success of the sugar tax on soft drinks has prompted campaigners to call on the government to introduce a similar levy on food.
A calorie tax would encourage manufacturers to reformulate products to reduce both fat and sugar by penalising them for making food with excessive calories, according to the campaign groups Action on Salt and Action on Sugar.
Under the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, introduced in April 2018, manufacturers are forced to pay a levy to the government if they fail to reduce excessive calories in non-alcoholic drinks.
In a statement issued this week, the campaign groups called on Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) go further and encourage companies to reduce fat, as well as sugar, in food products.
The PHE’s existing Sugar Reduction Plan does “not go far enough” and “fat and sugar reformulation could result in a much larger reduction in excess calories to reduce obesity,” they said.
A “huge variation” in the calorie content of different cakes and biscuits indicates that reformulation is “easily achievable” according to campaigners.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said the sugar tax "has already resulted in a much bigger reduction of sugar content of drinks in the UK than originally anticipated" and "it is imperative that this levy continues."
He added that the same impact "could be achieved in creating a levy to reduce excess calories but we need a firm commitment from HM Treasury and The Department of Health and Social Care to make this a reality."
And Katharine Jenner, campaign director of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, remarked: “Manufacturers are simply not doing enough. An ‘excess calorie levy’ would encourage manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their unhealthy foods.”
Responding to the calls for a calorie tax, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "There are no plans to introduce a calorie levy. We are already reducing exposure to fatty and sugary foods, and are now consulting on further plans to offer clear labelling and more support for individuals to manage their weight."
This comes just a week after a report by the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition found higher saturated fat consumption is linked to raised blood cholesterol and increased the risk of heart disease.
In the report, Professor Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at PHE, advised that foods with high saturated fats should be eaten in moderation, but highlighted the need for industry change.
“We all need to take action, but food manufacturers, suppliers and caterers have a particular responsibility in helping people to do this,” he said.