Expert calls for heavy taxation on ultra-processed foods

This comes amid calls for tobacco-style warning signs on product packets and for a total ban on UPF advertisements.

UPFs such as ready meals, fizzy drinks, ice cream and processed meals tend to be higher in fat, saturated fat and sugar while lower in fibre, protein and micronutrients.

Professor issues calls for ‘heavy taxation’ on ultra-processed foods

Calls have been made to treat ultra-processed foods like tobacco productsCalls have been made to treat ultra-processed foods like tobacco products (Image: Getty)

Professor Carlos Monteiro, of the University of Sao Paulo, is set to discuss the hazards these present at the International Congress on Obesity in Brazil.

He said: “Sales of UPFs in schools and health facilities should be banned, and there should be heavy taxation of UPFs with the revenue generated used to subsidise fresh foods.”

He also suggested that public health campaigns be used to inform consumers of the dangers presented in Ultra-processed food  products.

He added: “Both tobacco and UPFs cause numerous serious illnesses and premature mortality; both are produced by transnational corporations that invest the enormous profits they obtain with their attractive/addictive products in aggressive marketing strategies, and in lobbying against regulation; and both are pathogenic (dangerous) by design, so reformulation is not a solution.”

However, medics argued that comparing UPFs to tobacco or cigarettes is “very simplistic”.

Dr Hilda Mulrooney, reader in nutrition and health at London Metropolitan University, said: “Taxes on sugar sweetened beverages in the UK have been shown to be successful in driving reformulation and changes in consumer behaviour, far more so than voluntary guidance to reduce sugar content of children’s foods for example.

“But treating food like tobacco is very simplistic. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, even second-hand, so banning them is relatively straightforward in that the health case is very clear.

“However, we need a range of nutrients including fat, sugar and salt, and they have multiple functions in foods – structural, shelf-life – not just taste and flavour and hedonic properties.

“It is not as easy to reformulate some classes of foods to reduce them and they are not the same as tobacco because we need food – just not in the quantities most of us are consuming.”

Treating UPFs like tobacco has been called symplisticTreating UPFs like tobacco has been called simplistic (Image: Getty)

Dr Duane Mellor, dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, who is an honorary academic fellow at Aston University, added: “It is not straightforward to draw parallels between the food industry and tobacco industry, as food is essential to life, tobacco is not”.

“Also, to have a safe food supply in cities our modern society needs some processing to prevent food from becoming contaminated and spoiling which might result in illness which include diseases like pathogenic strains E.coli which there has been a recent outbreak of in the UK.”

Prof Monteiro’s work led to the creation of the Nova food classification system, which categories food and drink into four groups: minimally processed food, processed culinary ingredients, processed food and ultra-processed food.

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